Mauritius arrests captain of Japanese tanker that caused massive oil spill

A satellite image shows the ship MV Wakashio and its oil spill after it crashed off the southeast coast of Mauritius, August 7, 2020. Satellite image: Maxar Technologies/Reuters
A satellite image shows the ship MV Wakashio and its oil spill after it crashed off the southeast coast of Mauritius, August 7, 2020. Satellite image: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

Mauritius has arrested the captain of the Japanese bulk carrier that ran aground off its coast, causing a devastating oil spill in one of the world’s most pristine maritime environments, police said on Tuesday.

The MV Wakashio struck a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on July 25 and began spilling oil on Aug 6, prompting the government to announce a state of environmental emergency. An estimated 1000 tonnes of oil leaked into the ocean.

Mauritius’ National Crisis Committee said two companies, International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation Ltd and Le Floch Depollution, will start cleaning three sites on the shoreline on Wednesday. They will be joined by local groups including fishermen.

The spill spread over a big area of endangered corals, affecting fish and other marine life in what some scientists have called the country’s worst ecological disaster. Emergency crews managed to remove most of the ship’s remaining oil before it split in two on Saturday.

“We have arrested the captain of the vessel and another member of the crew. After having been heard by the court, they have been denied bail and are still in detention,” inspector Siva Coothen told Reuters.

The other man arrested was the deputy captain, he said, adding the two men were charged with endangering safe navigation.

Scientists say the full impact of the spill is still unfolding but the damage could affect Mauritius and its tourism-dependent economy for decades. Removing the ship is likely to take months.

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