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Anger As Dead Dolphins Wash Up On Mauritius Beaches A Day After Wakashio Oil Ship Deliberately Sunk


A day after the controversial sinking of the 300m front section of the Japanese-owned oil spill ship, the Wakashio, there is shock and anger in the country as dozens of dead dolphins and porpoises washed up on the beaches of Mauritius earlier today in the Indian Ocean.

There has been not yet been an official statement on the exact cause of death and species, although Government fisheries officials did confirm 17 dolphins had been found on Wednesday 26 August, as the numbers kept rising throughout the day.

Videos and photos have appeared throughout the national media as well as across social media, with several videos showing both heavy oil in the mouth of the dolphin as well as a thin film of oil along the delicate breathing blowholes and skins of the mammals. Videos also emerged showing the desperate efforts to save the mammals who were clearly looking distressed

Until now, it had been dead turtles, fish, shellfish, and crabs that had been washing up on shore, and these are the largest marine life to date to be seen directly impacted, 32 days since the Japanese vessel, the Wakashio grounded on Mauritius’ pristine coral reefs, and started spilling ship engine oil from 6 August.

There has not yet been a response from the owners of Wakashio, Nagashiki Shipping.

Impact being felt 10 miles North of crash site

The dolphins washed up along a 2 mile stretch of coast along the bays and shores of Mauritius, 12 miles North from the wreck of the Wakashio.  This stretch has previously been famous for the hundreds of dolphins that could be seen jumping

out of the ocean in the calm morning waters around the edge of the unspoiled barrier reef on that part of the South Eastern coast of the island.

The location of the beaching of the dolphins is much further North than the Government had been concentrating cleanup efforts, despite satellite analysis using SAR that showed that on 11 August (five days after the spill had commenced), traces of the oil spill could be seen 14 miles North by the protected atoll and mangroves of Ile aux Cerfs, less than a mile from where some of the dolphins have now washed up in the village of Quatre Soeurs by the Grand River South East.

Although media and Government sources have reported that the species found are dolphins, it is worth noting that there are several large species of marine mammals in Mauritian waters at this time of year. Cetaceans are the name for the group of ocean mammals commonly known as whales, dolphins, and porpoises. In Mauritius, the most common dolphins are the spinner and bottlenose dolphins. Porpoises are rarer than dolphins. They are considered toothed whales and more closely related to belugas and narwhals, than dolphins. Given the physical features around the beak of the creatures, the videos and photos circulating online appear to indicate that these species may be porpoises, although an official statement from the Government has not yet been released.

Anger and protests

Anger has been rising against what has been seen as a slow and apathetic response from the Government, in which they have been seen to hide behind the advice of select international advisers while not being open to other offers of support from around the world and reducing transparency around the containment, salvage and cleanup process.  Frustration is also building against the Japanese shipping company, Nagashiki Shipping, the insurance industry and international community who appear to be ignoring the plight of ordinary Mauritians who had been on the front lines of this crisis since the start.

An army of volunteers and NGOs in Mauritius have had to self organize efforts to build homemade oil booms and organize oil spill clean up efforts along the normally pristine coastline.

Frustrations have been mounting since the grounding and a large nationwide protest is now planned for Saturday 29 August in the capital city, Port Louis.

There has been no comment from the owners of the vessel, Nagashiki Shipping to the latest ecological fallout from this incident.  Last week, the global shipping regulator, the IMO admitted that it did not know the long term impacts of the VLSFO type of heavy fuel oil that the Wakashio was carrying on the marine and human environment in the tropical waters of Mauritius.

On 19 August 2020, in response to questions from Forbes, an IMO spokesperson said “because this fuel is so new, research has only just been initiated on its fate and behavior in the environment, particularly over a longer period. We know that some of the oil companies are financing research on this, and oil research centers e.g. CEDRE and SINTEF, have initiated work, but we don’t have any concrete information on this as yet, given the relative newness of these bunkers. In terms of the response related to the release of this fuel, it looks and behaves essentially the same as any other bunker fuel spill. It’s really the longer term fate and effects that are not yet known.” Bunkers are the fuel oil used by ships .

MORE FROM FORBESGlobal Shipping Regulator Admits It Does Not Know Effect Of Wakashio Fuel In Mauritian Waters

There have also been concerns that the lack of transparency around the science being conducted by experts sent by Japan have aggravated and caused more uncertainty in the situation.  These experts have been in Mauritius for almost a month, and there has been no transparency on the number of samples that have been collected, types of samples, or locations of samples, let alone the results they are finding, despite some well established protocols on what to do in the early days of a major oil spill.

MORE FROM FORBESThe Critical First Five Steps Every Country Should Take When Responding To A Major Oil Spill

This lack of transparency has angered many in Mauritius who fear this is evidence of a cover up by a Government more interested in protecting a powerful tourism lobby than understanding the potential environmental and health implications for that part of the country.

A bad two months for the ocean

This is now the second time in two months a major ship-related incident triggered nationwide protests, that in Lebanon’s case led to the resignation of the Lebanese Cabinet.

With greater scrutiny on global shipping’s responsibility in this crisis, questions are being asked about what reforms may need to be seen.

This comes amid a bunker fuel pipeline leaked in one of Venezuela’s National Parks, causing a spill twice as large as the one in Mauritius, and an abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Yemen threatens the entire Red Sea with an oil spill that would be 50 times larger by volume.

Much wider fall out from the Wakashio

In other developments in Mauritius, it has been a day of fast-moving developments:

  • Greenpeace issued an open letter calling for an independent international inquiry into the decision to deliberately sink the forward section of the  Wakashio.
  • Greenpeace also chastised the global insurance industry for attempting to downplay the gravity of the situation and try to reduce the effort needed to full rehabilitate the large area that has been affected.  Invoking the ‘Polluters Pay Principle,’ Greenpeace called for the shipping company responsible to fund the rehabilitation of the area.
  • Given the two vessels supporting the sinking of the Wakashio were Malta-flagged, Greenpeace has written to Malta to inquire what steps Malta is now taking to investigate whether marine pollution violations due to the sinking of the Wakashio have taken place by vessels under their responsibility.
  • Greenpeace has also made calls for the shipowner to abandon fossil fuels, which was one of the root causes of this disaster.
  • The Mauritian Minister of Environment and Minister of Maritime Affairs were charged in a Mauritian Court for negligence in their handling of the Wakashio response under a private prosecution in Mauritius, amid protests in the historic Port Town of Mahebourg most directly impacted by the oil spill.
  • A major, peaceful protest march is planned for Saturday, August 29th in the Mauritian capital city, Port Louis against the Government’s handling of the environmental aspects of this crisis and the ongoing lack of transparency in the Government’s responses. These responses have become increasingly secretive, with some journalists being refused access to briefings, and a pattern of reassurances that everything is under control, followed by subsequently worse news, as was seen with constant reassurances when the vessel hit the reefs, followed by the events of oil spilling from the vessel, the vessel splitting in two, the decision to deliberately sink the front of the ship and now having large dead marine life wash up on Mauritius’ shores.
  • Protests are also being planned at the same time on Saturday in front of the Mauritian embassies in capital cities around the world amid a large diaspora who had been offering their support but being sidelined in the containment, cleanup and scientific efforts.
  • Environmental NGOs withdraw their support from the Government’s National Crisis Committee over their handling of the environmental aspects.
  • Protests from Greenpeace Japan have begun in Japan against ship operator, Mitsui O.S.K.
  • All this happens as another large bulk carrier breaks down 300 miles North of Mauritius

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