Three dead, one missing in Wakashio salvage vessel sinking

Mauritian coastguard inspecting the oil spill site caused by the grounded vessel Wakashio. Credit: FABIEN DUBESSAY/AFP via Getty Images

Three crew members are dead and one is missing after the Mauritius Port Authority (MPA) tug they were on board collided with the oil barge it was towing. The MPA tug, Sir Gaetan Duval, sank after the collision. Both vessels were involved in the Wakashio salvage operation.

According to the MPA, Sir Gaetan Duval was towing the oil barge l’Ami Constant from the Wakashio casualty site towards the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, when the incident occurred at 7:40 pm local time on 31 August 2020. The barge hit the tug in rough sea, damaging the hull, port master Louis Gervais Barbeau told local radio station Top FM.

The eight-member crew sent out a distress call before abandoning ship and taking to two lifeboats, which overturned in the heavy swell. The National Coast Guard of Grand-Baie immediately responded with a search-and-rescue operation. Four of the crew were rescued overnight.

l’Ami Constant survived the collision and was spotted drifting off the Poudre-D’or fishing reserve on the morning of 1 September, near to where Sir Gaetan Duval went down. The barge is owned by Taylor Smith, a local logistics company involved in the Wakashio clean-up. It had been on standby in the Mahébourg lagoon since August 11, to assist with oil removal.

At a press conference at the hospital in Pamplemousses, where some of the rescued crew members were being treated, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said there was no oil on the barge. This contradicted the MPA statement from the previous evening, which said l’Ami Constant was transporting oil from the Wakashio site.

Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier, hit a reef on the southeast coast of Mauritius on 25 July. It started leaking bunker fuel two weeks later. The spill, an estimated 1,000 tonnes, threatened the nearby Pointe d’Esny marine reserve. A further 2,000 tonnes were removed from the vessel.