Wakashio moored to tug as break-up risk grows

A helicopter hovers over the vessel MV Wakashio that ran aground and caused oil leakage near Blue Bay Marine Park in southeast Mauritius. Credit: DAREN MAUREE/L'Express Maurice/AFP via Getty Images

Grounded Capesize bulk carrier MV Wakashio was moored to a tug, amid growing risks the ship could split in two, owing to a widening crack inside its hull.

This was announced by the ship’s charterer, Japanese shipping group Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), on 11 August 2020.

“Since this ship is unable to navigate by itself, it’s moored to a tug so that it will not drift even if it’s broken,” said MOL in a statement.

Wakashio ran aground on a reef on the southeastern side of Mauritius on 25 July 2020, close to the Point d’Esny Wetlands, the Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, the Blue Bay Marine Area, and the Mahebourg Fishing Reserves.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, whose government has come under fire for its slow response to the ecological disaster, said in a broadcasted speech on 10 August that it was inevitable for Wakashio to break up.

“The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we’re facing a very serious situation. We should prepare for a worst-case scenario. It’s clear that at some point, the ship will fall apart,” said Jugnauth in the broadcast.

The 2007-built 203,000 dwt Wakashio was ballasting from Singapore to Tubarão, Brazil, and was carrying about 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, comprising 3,800 tonnes of very-low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) and 200 tonnes of marine diesel oil (MDO).

MOL said that as of 11 August, about 1,020 tonnes of VLSFO on board had been pumped out and transferred onto small tankers.

About 1,180 tonnes of VLSFO had leaked out from the ship’s fuel tank. Of the leaked quantity, an estimated 1,000 tonnes has leaked outside of the vessel, and 460 tonnes has been manually recovered from sea and coast.

About 1,600 tonnes of VLSFO and 200 tonnes of MDO remain on the ship, and transfer work will continue. Local residents have also placed makeshift oil booms, fashioned from household products, around the stricken Wakashio.

MOL has dispatched six members from its company, who have tested negative for COVID-19, to the site on 11 August for the purpose of co-operating with the authorities, collecting information, preventing the spread of oil pollution, and supporting oil spill recovery. “We will continue to consider additional dispatch of personnel and transportation of supplies,” said MOL in a statement.

MOL added that it has been in constant touch with the Japanese shipowner Nagashiki Shipping since it was first informed of the incident on the island of Mauritius.

A team of professional oil responders and salvors, led by SMIT International, which has been contracted by Nagashiki Shipping, has been on site for some days.

“MOL is doing everything possible to support the efforts of owner and manager, Nagashiki Shipping and its appointed teams, in mitigating the effects of the spill. MOL deplores any incident of oil pollution and continues to offer support to all involved in the response,” said MOL in a statement.

About 500 tonnes has been salvaged from the ship, but rough seas have hampered the operations. “Due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard-side bunker tank of the vessel was breached [on 6 July 2020] and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea,” Nagashiki Shipping said in a statement on 7 August.