Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth says the country will seek compensation for the extensive environmental damage from the Japanese ship's owner, Nagashiki Shipping company.

Volunteers take part in the clean up operation in Mahebourg, Mauritius on August 12, 2020.
Volunteers take part in the clean up operation in Mahebourg, Mauritius on August 12, 2020. (AP)

Although almost all the remaining oil has been pumped from a Japanese ship that ran aground off Mauritius, its initial spill of 1,000 tons of fuel has severely damaged the Indian Ocean island's coral reefs and once pristine coast.  

Nearly all the 3,000 tons of fuel left on the MV Wakashio has been emptied from the vessel stranded on a coral reef, the ship owners confirmed.

Widening cracks in the ship's hull show that it might break up, but with little fuel remaining, further environmental damage is expected to be limited.

“Today we can confirm that there is just a small amount of oil left on the ship. We are not threatened with an even worse disaster,” Jean Hugue Gardenne, communications manager for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation said. 

Damage to coral reefs may be irreversible

“However, make no mistake, the damage that has been done already is substantial. There is considerable clean-up work that must be done urgently," Gardenne said. "The damage to the coral reefs may be irreversible.”

“The amount of oil that was spilled in the area may seem relatively small, but it hit at a very sensitive part of our island,” Gardenne said. “Our coral reefs, the mangrove areas, a marine protected area, four small islands. All these have been contaminated by the oil.”

“We thought it was safe, but now this disaster happens," he said.

Japanese experts are working with local groups to remove oil from the Mahebourg Lagoon and the waters around the Isle aux Aigrettes wildlife sanctuary, Gardenne said.

Environmental group Greenpeace Africa warned that the consequences of the oil spill may be lasting.

“We know this disaster will have significant effects on biodiversity in Mauritius,” communications coordinator Tal Harris said. “There needs to be a detailed and urgent survey of the damage done and a monitoring program to see what can recover and how quickly, and how much residual oil sticks around in the long term."

READ MORE: Mauritius says almost all oil removed from damaged Japanese ship

Japanese company says will cooperate with Mauritius

Owner Nagashiki Shipping said in a statement that “residual” amounts of fuel remain on the ship. The company has sent experts to help in cleaning up the damage.

“We will continue to do our utmost to minimize the impact of oil spill recovery and environmental pollution,” said representative director Kiyoaki Nagashiki, a statement said. The company confirmed that it will cooperate with Mauritius, which seeks compensation for the damage.

"We will fully cooperate with the authorities of Mauritius and Japan to work to resolve the situation as soon as possible and will do our best to prevent the spread of oil and protect the environment," the statement said.

Nagashiki Shipping said it is investigating why the Wakashio went off course.

The ship was supposed to stay at least 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Mauritius but instead came within a mile and struck the coral reef on July 25. Battered by heavy waves, the ship cracked and began to leak oil on August 6.

READ MORE: Operator of Japanese ship apologises for oil spill along Mauritius coast

Mauritius pushes for compensation for damage

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Mauritius will seek compensation for the extensive environmental damage from the Wakashio’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping. He has declared the oil spill a national disaster.

Jugnauth is under pressure to explain why immediate action was not taken to empty the ship of its oil before it began to leak. Jugnauth has banned some newspapers from future press conferences after they asked tough questions, local residents said.

READ MORE: Mauritius declares environmental emergency as stranded ship leaks fuel 

Birthday leads to bad day

Local media reported on Thursday that three crew members who were interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Department acknowledged that just before the ship ran aground on the evening of July 25, the crew, including the captain, were celebrating a birthday of one of its members.

Mauritanian Lexpress news added that the crew – made up of three Indian nationals, 16 Filipinos, and one Sri Lankan – told investigators that the ship had sailed from China to Australia and back to China with a stopover in Singapore before heading to Brazil.

It was on its way to Brazil that the accident happened.

Lemauricien newspaper also reported of the captain’s absence from the cabin just before the ship ran aground, saying they had been informed that the ship would travel close to the island to get internet service despite having a satellite system.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies