Stricken ship behind oil spill sunk off Mauritius

This August 19, 2020, handout satellite image obtained courtesy of Maxar Technologies shows a close-up view of the forward section of the MV Wahashio shipwreck off the coast of Mauritius. – Mauritian authorities on August 18, 2020 arrested the Indian captain of a Japanese-owned ship wrecked off the island nation’s coast, spewing tonnes of oil into pristine waters, police said. The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on July 25 and began oozing oil more than a week later, spilling more than 1,000 tonnes into blue waters popular among honeymooners and tourists.Officials have yet to reveal why the ship, which was making its way from Singapore to Brazil, had come so close to the island, which is now reeling from ecological disaster. (Photo by Handout / Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

PORT LOUISMauritius (AFP) — The broken stem of a Japanese-owned ship which ran aground causing a devastating oil spill in pristine waters off Mauritius, has been successfully sunk in the open ocean, the national crisis committee said Monday.

The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on July 25 and began leaking oil two weeks later, prompting a race against the clock to pump all the fuel off the bulk carrier before it broke in two.

The operation was successful and two tugboats last week began towing the larger, forward section of the vessel some 15 kilometres (nine miles) out into the open ocean, where it has been sunk to a depth of 3,180 metres.

The smaller section remains wedged on the reef where the shipwreck occurred.

“The planned sinking of the stem (forward) section of the casualty has been completed and at around 3.30pm was no longer visible on the sea surface,” read a statement from the crisis committee.

Greenpeace opposed the plan, warning last week that sinking the vessel would “risk biodiversity and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins”.

Over 1,000 tonnes of oil spilled into the pristine waters that have long been a major draw for honeymooners, and contain precious mangroves and coral reefs.

Last week a team of British scientists arrived to co-ordinate an impact assessment on what damage has been done to the island and how to help the eco-system recover.

International experts from Japan and France are also on the ground assisting the archipelago nation in the wake of the spill.

Senior British marine monitoring scientist Dr Sue Ware told AFP the team would help “determine the footprint of the oil both on the shoreline and… whether it has managed to reach any areas of the seabed” and how it has impacted mangroves, coral reefs and different marine species.

A view of the front section of the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park, is seen after breaking into two parts off the coast of south-east Mauritius on August 17, 2020. (Photo by Daren Mauree / L’Express Maurice / AFP)

She said efforts by Mauritius to place booms in the water appeared to have been successful in preventing oil from reaching the protected Blue Bay wetlands area.

The captain of the ship and his second-in-command were arrested on Tuesday.

Officials have yet to reveal why the ship, which was making its way from Singapore to Brazil, came so close to the island.