How tiny Mauritius is dealing with a devastating oil spill by a vessel from mighty Japan

Nii Ntreh Sep 2, 2020 at 12:00pm

September 02, 2020 at 12:00 pm | News, Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

September 02, 2020 at 12:00 pm | News, Opinions & Features

A Japanese vessel hit a coral reef at Point d'Esny on July 25, spilling more than 2,000 tons of oil. Photo Credit: NBCnews.com

Mauritius is seeking compensation from Japan for the oil spill that occurred last month when the MV Wakashio hit a coral reef near the island nation’s wildlife conservation of Pointe d’Esny.

But according to reports in Japan, Mauritius’ requests are a part of secret talks between the two countries on how best to resolve the incident that has killed numerous wildlife off the island’s coast.

Kyodo, Japan’s biggest news agency, says Mauritius is asking for $30 million for the construction of 100 fishing boats and to train 475 fishermen as well as 60 skippers on how to fish in rough seas. The country also wants Japan to renovate the Albion Fisheries Research Center, a facility built in the 1980s with Japanese grants.

The total compensation is thought to be around $34 million. But is that a fair amount to recompense the damage that has been done?

The vessel was carrying 4,000 tons of oil, 3,800 tons of sulfur fuel oil, and some 200 tons of diesel when it had the accident on July 25. But the oil spill did not begin until two weeks after the MV Wakashio hit the coral reef, and a few days after the spill began, the ship eventually broke into two.

Last week, Mauritian authorities sank the broken parts because they could not be recovered due to the turbulent seas. That move was protested by international environmental non-profit Greenpeace.

This is not close to the biggest offshore oil spills in the last few decades but Pointe d’Esny is a protected marine ecosystem and the destruction to marine life has been too big to overlook.

A fortnight ago, photos of dead dolphins, turtles and other sea life which made the rounds on social media and in the local press, triggered Mauritians to protest how their government had handled the spill.

Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer, told NBC News that he found it “very difficult to think that something other than the oil spill and scuttling” could have caused the death of the animals. But the Mauritian government disagrees, maintaining that its initial investigations conclude that the deaths of the sea creatures were in no way connected to the MV Wakashio.

The Japanese reports of talks between Mauritius and the Asians also make no mention of relief or plans towards repairing the environmental damage caused by the accident. Ordinarily, such talks would include issues on how to give a new lease on life to the biodiversity in that area.

There are some Mauritians who believe the government is not being forthright with its citizens and it’s also not putting its foot on the ground with the Japanese.

Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz, an environmentalist on the island, said her government wants to “insult our intelligence”. She told NBC News, “I have talked to people across the coast. They’re saying this is definitely abnormal.”

The government of Mauritius obviously knows what it is up against in dealing with the spill. The sunken vessel belonged to Nagashiki Shipping and was operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the second-biggest shipping company in the world – which makes it one of Japan’s most influential businesses.

After the captain of the ship, 58-year-old Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, an Indian, was arrested and charged with endangering safe navigation, no other person seems to have fallen in trouble.

The Japanese have shown some commitment to help in cleaning up the spill. But that has also not gone smoothly, with the BBC reporting that three people have lost their lives in that effort.

As Japan tries to not come off as guiltily defensive as they could be, Mauritians continue to demand strength and honesty from their government. But for now, the latter must deal with present concerns that threaten some livelihoods in the small nation.

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