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Sea Shepherd stands with the people of Mauritius, who are standing strong for the oceans

Tuesday, Sep 01, 2020

Commentary by Jeff Hansen

Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director & Sea Shepherd Global Director 

The MV Wakashio oil spill occurred offshore of Pointe d'Esny, south of Mauritius, after the bulk carrier Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on 25 July 2020 at around 16:00 UTC. The ship began to leak fuel oil in the following weeks, and broke apart in mid-August.

 

The Captain of the Wakashio has been charged and jailed under the Piracy and Violence Act, however many questions remain, like why the Government sat on their hands and did nothing for over a week when they could have been pumping oil out and prevented this catastrophic man-made disaster. Now the forward section of the oil spill vessel has been sunk in an undisclosed location. 

There is speculation that recent deaths of melon headed dolphins may be related to the spill. Photo: Adrien Gauthier

Despite six days of towing the vessel, the Governments of Mauritius, France and Japan, who were all involved in the decision and operation to sink the Wakashio, the vessel owners, Nagashiki Shipping, the global shipping regulator, UN agency International Maritime Organization who were all on site in Mauritius and also responsible for maritime pollution (MARPOL), they all remained tight lipped about the final destination or co-ordinates of the vessel.

 

This secrecy over the final location of the sinking adds further intrigue and mystery to the Wakashio, whose cause of the initial incident is still unknown and subject to significant speculation on Mauritius.

 

The whole situation stinks, so much government and business coverup and the people and Mauritius’s precious marine life are left with the mess. The rear of the ship remains lodged on the reef with almost 27,000 litres of diesel still onboard. The clean-up of the oil spill on the beach still hasn’t really started. There are also justified concerns over potential dispersants that might be used, toxic to the marine life and the Mauritian people. Then there is the lack of transparency of what the scientific base line is of this once pristine region, due to the secretive nature of the data collection and method over the years.

However through all this mess, the people of Mauritius have stood strong, making home-made absorbent barriers to soak up the oil and rally to protect their precious marine and plant life, even relocating many species out of harm’s way. They have a long fight ahead of them, but their resolve, determination and love for their home remains strong and will see them through. The people have come out on mass with tens of thousands of people in the streets, rallying in protest of their governments handling of this whole situation. They are hurting, they are angry and they deserve to be. They are connected to this place, it’s a part of them, and when their home is hurt, they hurt.

They may not have the Government in their corner, but they have people across the globe that would be there in a heartbeat helping if it were not for COVID. People across the earth do care, for we know that no matter where you live on this planet, what happens to our oceans affects us all.

Jeff Hansen, Managing Director, Sea Shepherd Australia
One of many dolphins possibly impacted by the Mauritian oil spill. Photo: Adrien Gauthier

Sea Shepherd volunteers have responded to these disasters for decades. We were there in the Galapagos in January 2001 when the tanker Jessica ran aground. Our crews were on the beaches in Prince Edward Sound, Alaska in March of 1989 after Captain Joseph Hazelwood ran the Exxon Valdez into the ice. Our crews were on the beaches in Brittany in 1999 when the tanker Erica sank dumping 30,000 barrels of heavy oil into the sea.

We were back on site in Brittany just last year in 2019 when the Grande American caught fire and was leaking oil into the Bay of Biscay.


And we were in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred. That was Sea Shepherd Gulf Rescue, a campaign where we were threatened with fines and prison by the U.S. Coast Guard for rescuing animals and birds.


Rescuing and cleaning birds and animals, cleaning the slime from the rocks, sopping up the foul oil, raking up the tar balls and enduring the stench and the skin irritations, all without compensation from governments or the responsible corporations.

 

In the words of Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson, “these oil and shipping companies and the governments of the world must be held accountable, these disasters are not just merely unfortunate mistakes to be rectified by apologies, thoughts, prayers and inadequate compensation. These incidents are part of the business of marine transport.”

Rescue operations are underway. Photo: Adrien Gauthier

Although we cannot physically be there with the people of Mauritius, we stand with you as you tackle the immediate and long term solutions, like rallying for real political change that will not put your home  and the natural biodiversity of Mauritius at risk. A government that is for the people and understands that by putting the health of our oceans and the natural world first is putting humanity first.

 

At this time, it’s very important that we don’t assume the worst and assume Mauritius will be damaged forever. It’s critical that we stay informed about the realities of what is actually happening there on the ground, that we don’t give up and paint a picture of doom and gloom. After all, there is no action without hope.

 

Yes it's horrific, the images of mangroves (oceans nurseries) covered in thick oil, the dozens of dead dolphins washing ashore and the dolphins bobbing up and down in what appeared to be gasping for air, which might be possible in dire situations where they may move their laryngeal plug, who knows. The government must allow for full transparency and necropsies carried out to provide clarity around what has happened to these dolphins. However for now the Government is saying that the dozens of dolphins dying is not as a result of the oil spill. 

Since the oil spill over 40 deceased dolphins have been found. Photo: Adrien Gauthier

Sea Shepherd Cetacean Field Veterinarian, Dr Verné Dove says that we know the oil is toxic and dolphins often die when there is an oil spill. The community is eagerly awaiting the necropsy reports. 

 

“Exposure of dolphins to elevated petroleum compounds can lead to pneumonia which results in increased mortality in dolphins. The greatest threat to dolphins from an oil spill is the inhalation of the toxic volatile fumes at the air- water surface, followed by the consumption of contaminated prey species. When dolphins inhale volatile vapours, the mucous membranes in both their mouth and airways may undergo rapid inflammation, and the lungs can become congested resulting in acute pneumonia and often death,” Sea Shepherd Cetacean Field Veterinarian, Dr Verné Dove stated.

 

“There is also a huge under reporting of the true number of dolphins that die acutely in an oil spill, so the number reported may be only a fraction of the real number of dolphins that have died," she added.

"Dolphins are definitely dying due to the oil spill. This is not unique and has occurred with many past oil spills as the oil is highly toxic if consumed or inhaled. Dolphins exposed to oil spills are vulnerable to potentially harmful exposure to oil chemicals resulting in acute petroleum toxicity, as well as long term chronic health affects at the individual and population level.”

Sea Shepherd Cetacean Field Veterinarian, Dr Verné Dove

There has to be something good that comes of all this mess, that these dolphins didn’t die in vain and there is, for what the government has done is take a big stick and whacked a hornets nets and the people have comes out on mass, demanding answers, a change in government, one that represents them and their beautiful home and way of life in Mauritius. The government’s actions has also now given rise to countless numbers of new activists in Mauritius that will no longer sit idle and let their marine environment be treated with such little regard. From the ashes, will come a new Mauritius, as beautiful as ever, however with a strong guard connected by a love of their natural world and a deep ecological understanding of its importance.

 

We have to stand strong with the proud people of Mauritius, that they like their environment can be resilient with a helping hand, that their beaches won’t be always ruined. For if these notions of Armageddon become cemented in people’s minds across the globe, it will hurt Mauritius economy in many ways, causing longer lasting economic and psychological harm than the oil spill itself. 

Toxic oil from the damaged ship Photo: Eco Sud

Encouraging the people there on the ground with your love and support and financial aid, is the path forward. To continue to shine a beacon of light on Mauritius as the people wipe away this dark patch of history, until once again Mauritius will simply be known for some of the worlds finest coral reefs and marine life, with around 430 different marine creatures including large pelagic fish, sea turtles, whales and dolphins. A place rich is beauty and biodiversity, one of our planets rare and precious gifts. A critical component of spaceship ocean, our very life support. A place where mother nature is on full display as the most spectacular show on earth.

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