Mauritius is seeking compensation from the owners of the cargo carrier that ran aground and spilt oil off its coast, causing the island’s worst-ever ecological disaster.

More than half of about 1,000 tonnes of fuel that leaked from the MV Wakashio has yet to be removed from the sea and coast. About 1,020 tonnes of oil has been transferred from the big ship to small tankers, and crews are working to remove more than 1,500 tonnes that still remains, Nagashiki Shipping, which owns the vessel, said on Tuesday.

Mauritius now faces widespread pollution, threatening the livelihoods of communities that depend on the ocean. The island economy, which relies on tourists who flock to its white-sand beaches, is already reeling from the coronavirus fallout and may be further affected by the spill.

The government ‘will ensure that the insurance company of MV Wakashio compensates the state and any other entity or person affected by the calamity,’ Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said in a statement to parliament.

TOPSHOT – People scoop leaked oil from the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground and caused oil leakage near Blue bay Marine Park in southeast Mauritius on August 9, 2020.

Move north

The ship hit a reef off the southeastern coast of Mauritius on July 25 and began leaking oil almost two weeks later. Mauritius could not intervene immediately because of rough seas and a lack of resources, according to Jugnauth.

Oil pollution is expected to move north along the coast and could affect the regions of Grand Port, Bambous Virieux and Flacq, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Strong currents on August 9 were pushing the oil slick towards Riviere des Creoles, it said.

The 300m-long ship, chartered by Mitsui OSK Lines, was en route to Brazil from China carrying low-sulfur fuel, diesel and lubricant. The bulk carrier designed to transport cargoes such as iron ore is outside a lagoon, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The crack inside the hull of the ship has expanded, according to Nagashiki. ‘Since this ship is unable to navigate by itself, a tow connection has been established between a tug and the Wakashio.’

 Reports said the crack had raised fear the shop could break apart and leak more fuel.

The International Maritime Organisation said on Tuesday that an oil spill expert it deployed to help is yet to depart, pending compliance with Mauritian Covid-19 restrictions. Nagashiki said two of its personnel were cleared to go to the site.

Earlier, legislators criticised the government for taking too long to start removing fuel from the vessel and questioned why it came too close to the coast in the first place.

‘Mauritius has no such expertise and required resources,’ Jugnauth told legislators. The ‘government has done it’s level best to prevent the situation from worsening in the face of very rough seas due to bad weather conditions.’

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