Any maritime disaster will have severe impact on assets, people and environment.. The effects of the oil spill from the Wakashio is beginning to manifest itself as there have been several reports of dead dolphins washing ashore on the beaches of Mauritius, even as the bow of the ship has been scuttled and sunk about 14 nautical miles of where the incident happened..
It has also been reported that that islandwide protest marches have been planned on the 29th of August 2020 and at some Mauritian embassies across the world in protest of the supposedly slow reaction by the Mauritian Government..
Although there has been not yet been any official statement on the exact cause of death and species that have perished, Mauritian fisheries officials have confirmed that 17 dolphins had been found washed ashore dead, on Wednesday 26th August..
The media have been circulating videos and photos of the mammals showing the presence of oil in the mouth, blowholes and skin.. Apart from dolphins and porpoises, other species such as turtles, fish, shellfish, and crabs have been washed ashore with the impact of the maritime disaster felt at least 21 nautical miles away..
News reports indicate rising anger against the seemingly slow and apathetic response from the Government.. Many have accused the Government of seeking the advice of international advisers while remaining closed to offers of support from other quarters around the world..
While there has been no comment from the owners of the vessel, Nagashiki Shipping to this incident, the IMO has reportedly admitted that it is yet to ascertain the long term impacts of the VLSFO (Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil) type of heavy fuel oil that the Wakashio was carrying on the marine and human environment in the tropical waters of Mauritius..
If you recall, January 1st 2020 saw the implementation of IMO’s MARPOL Annex VI (colloquially known as IMO2020) regulated to lower the current global limit for sulphur content of marine fuels from 3.50% to 0.50%..
VLSFO (Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil) is one of the options suggested by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to achieve this reduction and there has been an increase in the use of VLSFO on board ships..
However, even as early as February 2020, there have been reports that the usage of VLSFO is facing issues..
A study found that the new hybrid fuels with 0.50% sulphur content used in the study contained a high proportion of aromatic compounds in a range of 70% to 95%, resulting in increased black carbon emissions in the range of 10% to 85% compared to HSFO (High Sulphur Fuel Oil)..
As per reports, an IMO spokesperson has reported 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..
In the meantime, the Captain of the Wakashio has been arrested and charged and currently faces a possible 60 year jail term for failing to safely navigate the vessel in Mauritius waters..
The captain has been charged with “unlawful interference with the operation of a property of a ship” which resulted in unsafe navigation and according to L’Express news, Capt.Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar appeared before a district court in Port Louis in Mauritius as part of the formalities and has been remanded to police custody till his next appearance on 1st September..
The 203,000 DWT Capesize vessel is owned by Nagashiki Shipping and said to be on charter to Mitsui OSK Lines at the time of the incident..
While it is understood that over 1 million gallons of VLSFO was on board the ship, there is no clear indication of the actual tonnage that was spilt..
It remains to be seen what action the P&I club covering this ship will take..
While in the case of the APL England, there was a widespread condemnation on the arrest of the Captain, there does not seem to be that much of a backlash to the arrest of the Captain of the Wakashio..
What is your opinion..?? Should the Captain of the ship be responsible for this incident and is a possible 60 year jail term (if convicted) justified..??