The Wakashio Oil Spill in Mauritius – a report from Jill Holloway

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When a woman cuts her hair to save her Island you know it’s got to be a really special place. Two women that I know have both made this sacrifice.

Image: Jill Holloway

Monica could sit on her hair. Now its gone into the bales to soak up oil. Hair absorbs eight time its weight in oil, and when there are potentially 4000 tons about to pour onto your coastline, sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to help. All over Mauritius women have been cutting their hair to contribute to the sugar can trash and bagasse being packed into home -made floating barricades to contain the catastrophic effects of bunker oil pouring from the hull of the Wakashio.

The WAKASHIO is a 200,000 ton bulk carrier 300 meters long. It is registered in Panama. Built in 2007 it is the responsibility of Nagashiki Shipping of Japan. It’s a 21st Century ship with ultra modern technology. No way should it hit the reef. And it was 200 nautical miles off course from Singapore to Brazil. (https://www.fleetmon.com/maritime-news/2020/30533/major-oil-spill-mauritius-island/)

This 300 metre bulk carrier ship was mysteriously run aground in the extreme south of Mauritius on the reef at Point Desney listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. I got a call from the Coast Guard who tell me when anything that may affect diving.

Image: Fleetmon

That will be an expensive salvage job for someone, who will do it? I asked. Marine salvage is big business, and the ship was huge, and salvage fees increase with the size and value of the ship. The salvage crew get a percentage of the value of the vessel, paid directly by the insurers.

No no Madame, the owners do not want anyone to salvage it. They will send a crew from Holland in about three weeks. This is a bulk carrier. At the end of 2 weeks the ship was still there, and the hull, trapped on the coral reef, breached and black noxious bunker oil began to out onto the reef. The oil spread incredibly quickly, and the Mauritian Government call for National Mobilization while our beautiful turquoise ocean turned black.

This video is cobbled together from the early images flashing around the island, while everyone panicked at the possibility that we would wake up with our beaches covered in oil. Team Ocean Spirit went down on Saturday and spent the entire day deploying bales. Kevin our Dive Centre Manager came back shaken and shocked.

Image: Ocean Spirit

It’s chaos he said. How do they expect to contain that mess with sugar cane, trash, women’s hair, and shade cloth? He said that the stink was horrific, that the oil sludge was toxic, and that the guys should not go down on Sunday but recover from the fumes.

Image: Kevin Gibb

Under the control of the Prime Minister of Mauritius, the MSDA (Mauritian Scuba Diving Association) NGO Reef Conservation, Business Mauritius, The Chemical Industry, NGO Wildlife Mauritius, the Beach Authority, and health officials Mauritius leaders met to strategize. The sugar industry offered cane trash and bagasse. Construction companies offered miles of shade cloth. Clothing manufacturers provided absorbent cotton fabric and the fishing industry supplied miles of fishing line. The Health officials provided masks and gloves, and the Eco Sud guys guided the teams on safe retrieval of the oil.

The local population did the rest. All over the island, people stitched bales and stuffed them with oil absorbent material. Small fishing boats carried the barrages out to the oil covered ocean.

Others went down to the affected areas to save the fish trapped in the oil coated mangroves. Ile Aigrettes was severely affected, and I have not been able to get there to look at the effect of the oil. Volunteers collected all the birds off the Island and brough them to safety.

Image: Jovany

On Monday I was asked to go to Resiglas the boat builders swimming pool manufacturers and septic tank builders who provided drums to store the oil. They had cut a styrene block to support one of the pumps and asked me to take it down to Mahebourg. I was dreading this and expected to see chaos and oil. Unbelievable within 2 days the bulk of the oil around Point Desney and Mahebourg had been contained, removed and clean barriers placed. The French had sent a ship, 2 planes full of pumping equipment, a team of pollution control specialists and drones and helicopters to identify spots in need of help.

Image: Jill Holloway

Point Desney, deceptively clean and calm with Wakashio posing in the distance. While we cannot predict the full impact this has had on the corals, the ocean is now almost clean. Thanks to teamwork and a small amount to the ladies of Mauritius who shaved their heads.


Jill Holloway

Jill Holloway

Jill Holloway lives in Mauritius and at Sodwana Bay Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. A PADI qualified Nitrox diver with over 1,500 dives, she is a passionate observer and preserver of the marine environment, and has a database of over 35,000 fish pics and hundreds of Gopro videos on fish behaviour, which she shares with her readers.

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