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Mauritius prepares for ‘worst case scenario’ over grounded bulker

While the leaking fuel from the grounded capesize Wakashio off Mauritius is reported to have ceased, cracks in the vessel’s hull have expanded, raising concerns of further spillage

International efforts to contain the fuel oil spill have intensified with the International Maritime Organization, along with other UN agencies, sending an expert to the site

THE prime minister of Mauritius has said the island nation must prepare for “a worst case scenario” concerning the Japanese vessel that ran aground on a reef, spilling oil into the Indian Ocean.

While the leak has been halted, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said new cracks have been spotted in the vessel’s hull.

He said the 203,130 dwt capesize Wakashio still had 2,000 tonnes of oil in its undamaged tanks.

“The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation,” Mr Jugnauth said in a televised address on August 10.

“We should prepare for a worst case scenario. It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart.”

Wakashio had been on its way to Brazil from Singapore when it grounded on a reef near Pointe d’Esny on Mauritius’ east coast on July 25.

It was not carrying any cargo, but had about 4,000 tonnes of fuel, mostly low-sulphur fuel oil, on board.

The vessel is owned by Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping and is chartered out to Mitsui OSK Lines. 

MOL said in a statement that about 1,180 tonnes of fuel oil had leaked from the 2007-built, Panama-flagged vessel. 

Recent updates said 1,020 tonnes of very low sulphur fuel oil had been pumped out and transferred on to small tankers, while about 1,600 tonnes of VLSFO and about 200 tonnes of diesel oil remain on the ship.

The company said that transfer work would continue but cracks inside the hull had expanded. The ship is moored to a tug to prevent drifting.

International efforts to contain the spill have intensified as the vessel is grounded in a sensitive ecological area, close to the Blue Bay marine park.

Conservationists have reported finding dead fish and seabirds covered in oil, increasing fears of an ecological catastrophe despite a massive local cleanup operation that includes making floating booms from leaves and human hair.

Mauritius Wildlife Foundation conservation director Vikash Tatayah told local media: “We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some that could not be rescued.” 

The International Maritime Organization said it has joined international efforts and has deployed, along with other United Nations agencies, an expert who is en route to the site. Satellite mapping is being sought to inform about the extent of the spill.

France and Japan are also assisting Mauritius, which has initiated its oil spill contingency plans, the IMO said. 

In its latest casualty update, Lloyd’s List Intelligence said that with the weather deteriorating and high seas expected, there are concerns that the vessel could break apart, putting in danger the fuel tanks that are still intact.

Its data shows that three deficiencies were identified in February this year at Port Hedland in Australia by Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority, related to the fixed fire-extinguishing installation, records of seafarer’s working and resting hours, and navigational publications.

In November 2017, one deficiency related to the Automatic Identification System was reported in Oita, Japan, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows. 

ClassNK had inspected the vessel in March during an annual survey and found no problems, according to a Reuters report.

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