Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced on Wednesday August 12 the news that any inhabitant of the Indian Ocean archipelago had been waiting for several days. “All the fuel oil was pumped from the tanks” of the ship Wakashio stranded at the end of July on a reef near the south-eastern coast of Mauritius and causing oil pollution, he said.
“It was a race against time and I salute the tremendous work done to prevent another oil spill”, added the Prime Minister, specifying that of the approximately 4,000 tonnes of hydrocarbons transported by the bulk carrier, only around 100 tonnes remained on board, in the hold in particular.
Since the end of the previous week, intervention teams had been busy on the boat, in particular with the help of a helicopter, to pump the hydrocarbons still present in the vessel’s tanks.
The task was complicated by unfavorable weather and the fact that the ship threatened to break in two at any time, the crack in the hull widening day by day. Warmer weather enabled response teams to speed up pumping “And that also avoided the breakage of the boat, but this breakage is inevitable”, said the Prime Minister.
In total, le Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese shipowner, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel. It had struck a reef at Esny Point on July 25, but fuel oil had not started to escape from its shattered sides until last week. According to the Prime Minister, “Around 800 tonnes were dumped into the sea” to reach the coast of Mauritius and 570 tonnes have since been collected in the lagoon and on the coast.
The pollution provoked an impressive outpouring of solidarity among the population of 1.3 million inhabitants of this archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of them have been at work for several days to remove the oil and try to contain the pollution by making and deploying floating socks in the water.
The volunteers ignored the government’s calls to stay away and put all their energy into making the best way to preserve this previously pristine coast, on which there are two natural sites protected by the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.
This decontamination work, with which the French Navy is associated, will continue for the coming weeks. Just like the investigation, which has just started, and which will have to determine in particular why the ship which was sailing, empty, from China to Brazil, found itself so close to the coast of Mauritius.
The crew members and the ship’s captain, of Indian nationality, were questioned by police on Tuesday. The latter was again questioned at length on Wednesday, according to a source close to the investigation.
The disaster aroused anger among the population, some Mauritians wondering why the pumping operations had not started sooner, as soon as the ship ran aground. The Prime Minister defended himself on Wednesday from any negligence, saying that the experts consulted by the government considered the risks of an oil spill to be low at first:
“We couldn’t pump from the start because the sea was bad. It was also necessary to stabilize the boat. It is unfortunate that a tank has leaked. But I don’t see the need to apologize. “