Rattan Gujadhur

[Rattan Gujadhur] The 2020 MV Wakashio Mauritius Spill – Thoughts and New Developments

Rédigé par Rattan Gujadhur le Jeudi 1 Avril 2021

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
-George Orwell

One does not need to re-hash the whole 2020 Wakashio oil spill event here, much has already flowed in the press internationally, local public outcry has also been heard and had risen to global levels, multiple protests were held in Mauritius, and recovery companies were quick at work, and at least from an external vantage point, the black fuel oil scar seems to have disappeared. Has it truly? No one has yet to evaluate with robust scientific methodologies on hand, the impacts to the local marine and coral ecosystems. 
We can simply right now make a wild guess that it will take years before we attain ab initio levels.

Strangely, it now seems that an eerie silence has taken root within the local media, and nothing much is being debated anymore re: Wakashio disaster. Will the ongoing legal trials prevent a future recurrence, will current legal proceedings be a deterrent? Will corrective actions spring out of the legal deliberations, or will it be a case of swift damages and prison terms to the tanker operators.  Like is quite typical of small island communities, when events build up over each other, a feeling a lassitude, over-saturation, starts to be felt, like we can only take a certain amount of stress, not too much, not too less. 

The public and even the government, get some form of debilitating syndrome, and we simply all avoid to focus on the very heart of the matter.

A classic laisser aller attitude takes over, as if, all future potential future oil spills (may they never happen again!) will somehow auto-correct themselves by some generous acts of providence. I have so many fine memories of the blue azure coast areas of Mauritius, and one is often in a state of anxiety about the next big spill, will it end up happening again, when? which region? northern part of Mauritius, this time?

Will it drag us to our knees with a larger deversement in the lagoon?

How will our small island community, already under severe economic stress because of the  pandemic, be able to address macro-issues that often gets thrown at it. Mega-shipping companies, mammoth oil companies selling some new quality of fuel not adapted for maritime transport, seem frankly, beyond the controls of our government and regional partners. We seem to be under the sway of external forces who do not really value the criticality of the situation, and the specificity and sensitivity of the Mauritian environment. 

In these critical Covid-19 times, we understand, and know that other severe economic and healthcare events of the day may distract and disrupt us from focusing on other still-latent and lurking monsters.

But as Orwell constantly reminds us, ‘who controls the past controls the controls the future, who controls the present, controls the past’. We hope that key authorities (local and regional) will re-focus their eyes on the following (see further below), and take those bulls by their horns, to ensure that we really understand the true root cause/s of the Wakashio event. Mitigative, and oil spill responses, are to me, personally, just one side of addressing the actual adverse event/s, and remains ‘one’ aspect of oil spill emergency response planning efforts. There are only multifaceted dimensions to the issue that immediately demand the Mauritian government`s attention. We know our friends locally, and other internationally reputed teams, have done a very fine job remediating the coastal areas, and we overwhelmingly celebrate these massive heroic efforts. 

However, there are larger gaps that have led to this recent abhorrent situation, and we ask: is the country equipped to take careful cognizance of new developments with the Wakashio saga, investigate on them, and take major precautionary steps, now that it time is more than ever, of the essence?


Two recent seminal papers on the MV Wakashio have recent caught the world’s attention:

• Last year, Dr Christian Bueger, Director of SAFE SEAS and a professor of International Relations at the University of Copenhagen, published a paper in the Africa Report called, ‘Mauritius oil spill: Was the government unprepared?’

• Mr Nishan Degnarian, alumni of Cambridge and Harvard University, Chair of London School of Economics' Ocean Finance Initiative and a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine on topics of the ocean economy, published in Forbes Magazine, Jan 2021, the fine publicatio ‘Satellites Make New Discovery About Mauritius Oil Spill Ship Wakashio’.

Dr Bueger jumps straight into the heart of the matter. In fact, in his research paper, he states, that Mauritius was not far behind in tackling such an issue, and was verily the poster boy of regional oil spill planning, being one of the first African countries to finalize in 1990, an oil spill contingency plan with support from the International Maritime Organization and the UN Environment Program. Major funding was received, workshops were held as late as March 2020 in Zanzibar, and members of the ministry of fisheries, at the very same forum, gave a presentation titled, ‘Cooperation in preparedness and response to marine pollution incidents’. 

Importantly, he reveals that officials were aware of the risk of catastrophic oil spills and had already inventoried a range of sophisticated planning, response and disaster assessment tools. To add a further piece de resistance in his research, he states, that Mauritian officials had already highlighted that not all elements of the country oil spill strategy were very practical, and that some components of it were blatantly missing, such as a wildlife response plan (i.e Marine parks). In brief, we (Mauritius) knew our preparation plans in detail, and we also knew the lacunae extremely well. Furthermore, he refers to the MV Benita situation at the Port Louis harbor, and adds that in that particular case (though an incident of much smaller magnitude than the Wakashio), the government had done a very fine job in stopping the escalation, and recovery was swift and decisive, i.e. a salvage company was quick on site. Despite the earlier successes and good buildup of valuable experience for local officials, Bueger asks, three major questions related to the Wakashio event: 

• Why would the authorities have stocked an insufficient amount of containment equipment such as booms? Furthermore, why would the response had to wait for equipment to arrive or rely on the improvised devices made by volunteers? Why?

• Secondly he posits: was the right salvage company chosen and did the Dutch experts have the right strategy? The ship owner Nagashiki Shipping contracted the company. Yet, it is important to know how the experts cooperated and coordinated with the coast guard and the government overall.

• Third point: Major questions still needs to be understood whether maritime situational awareness could have detected the ship early on? Could better maritime surveillance might have recognized the ship`s travails earlier. The public he states, needs to know if the disaster could have been prevented by a rapid and aggressive coastguard interception. 

This are still a massive range of zone d`ombres, not being clearly framed and communicated to the public, possibly a full public inquiry is needed to enlighten all. Would this be a way to shed light on the issue and take novel precautionary actions?

[Rattan Gujadhur] The 2020 MV Wakashio Mauritius Spill – Thoughts and New Developments
In Nishan Degnarain`s thesis, there seem to have been severe  misreportings at the get go since the day the Wakashio left the port of Singapore, after a refuelling stop. He writes, ‘Geollect’s advanced analytics capabilities have revealed that the Wakashio ground to a sudden halt in the middle of the Indian Ocean on July 17, three days after fueling in Singapore and eight days before it collided with the island of Mauritius’. Most importantly, Degnarian`s useful paper uses the support of the Tanker operator (MOL) responses, as well as the critical Geollect sattelite data to point to five key incidents, prior to the grounding and eventual spill in Mauritius. I summarize them below for purposes of brevity.

[Rattan Gujadhur] The 2020 MV Wakashio Mauritius Spill – Thoughts and New Developments
Bueger and Degnarian do a great service to the nation with their publications and bring to our attention severe gaps in the Wakashio story line.

Since hope is not really a strategy anymore, the country cannot possibly rest on its laurels and must urgently unearth the ‘true’ root causes of this ongoing saga, so robust corrective and transparent measures can be implemented both regionally and locally. If they are already in the works, then this is very good news for all, but so far no notifications have been published to the press or the public, and all seem to fall into the illusions that ‘things have been rightly sorted out’. It would be complete and utter disaster to the country, if in the short- or long-term future, emergency responses are not swift, and mistakes are committed. The ecosystem, the flora, and fauna have their limits, and in the greater interests of the country steps must be taken in the right direction by officials. The public duty remains to ask the right questions and plead for effective maritime management procedures in Mauritius. 

1. Satellites Make New Discovery About Mauritius Oil Spill Ship Wakashio, Nishan Degnarian, Forbes Magazine, January 2021
2. Mauritius oil spill: Was the government unprepared?, Dr Christian Bueger, The Africa Report,  August, 2020.
3. Note: All the views above are the personal views of Rattan Gujadhur. Thank you to Prof. Bueger and Mr Degnarian for their enlightening work.


[Rattan Gujadhur] The 2020 MV Wakashio Mauritius Spill – Thoughts and New Developments
A propos de l'auteur : Rattan Gujadhur       left Mauritius for higher studies in the US in 1999. He has practiced in the Pharma and Biotech world for over 29 years and is a Dr in Chemistry. He remains deeply in love with Mauritius and has published reminiscences of Mauritius via a poetry collection and a novel.

Jeudi 1 Avril 2021