RPT: REVIEW - Wakashio Oil Spill 6 Months On: Africa Mulls How To Avoid Recurrence

(@FahadShabbir)

RPT: REVIEW - Wakashio Oil Spill 6 Months On: Africa Mulls How to Avoid Recurrence

JOHANNESBURG (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 04th February, 2021) OHANNESBURG, February 4 (Sputnik), Thabiso Lehoko - Six months on after a JOHANNESBURG (Pakistan Point news / Sputnik - 04th February, 2021) apanese bulk carrier leaked hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil off Mauritius' coast and broke apart, Africa has yet to draw lessons from the incident and create an effective response mechanism to address maritime disasters in the western Indian Ocean.

On Tuesday, the South African think tank Institute for Security Studies hosted a seminar on the matter.

FUEL, COMPLACENCY ABOUT SAFETY TO BLAME?

Japan's bulk carrier Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef near Mauritius on July 25, while carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil. On August 6, the wrecked ship started leaking oil and broke apart in the middle of the month.

In total, the vessel leaked some 1,000 tonnes of heavy oil into the ocean off Mauritius, endangering a land and sea conservation area with rare species. Months after the disaster, there have been reports of local communities suffering from oil-related health issues, including respiratory problems and skin infections.

Speaking at the seminar in Pretoria, Nishan Degnarain, economist and founder of advisory firm Breakthrough Ocean Ventures, noted that a number of hazards have been detected in the water. The fuel (low sulphur fuel) that was poured into the vessel is said to have been a mix of aviation and ship fuel.

"The Wakashio has made Africa and the rest of the World ask those pivotal questions in particular Africa's swift response and technical expertise to deal with such spillages. Moreover, the fuel that was used on the vessel causes vessel engines to seize world-wide," he continued.

According to Degnarain, the mapping system used in the vessel was also faulty and outdated.

"When the vessel turned into Mauritian waters indications are clear that the Mapping system used was faulty. Why did it go to Mauritius if the intention was for it to go to Brazil straight from Singapore," he wondered.

On the whole, the expert believes that a wide range of reasons could have led to the disaster.

"First of all here's why I think they could have avoided risk ... One, the vessel was understaffed. They must have had 20 crew on board and it only had 18, the 2 left could have had made a difference in terms of bridging gaps when the vessel could no longer move. Poor IMO [International Maritime Organisation ] regulations, the monitoring of safety aspect was not observed.

Weak inspecting regimes and cyber risk are also leading to engine failure. We must also take into account the fuel issue which has not been addressed six months down the line. Poor management of COVID-19 regulations are also to blame and a dubious salvage operation," Degnarain gave insight to the seminar.

The new regulations, known as IMO 2020, mandate a maximum sulphur content of 0.5 percent in marine fuels globally. The change is driven by the need to reduce the air pollution created in the shipping industry.

UK multinational BP, which supplied very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) to the bulk carrier, denied in January that the oil could have caused ship engine problems. It insists that the fuel supplied "fully met" IMO 2020 standards.

The company also cited ship operator MOL's December 2020 statement that points to "unsafe behaviors due to overconfidence that stems from complacency" and navigation as the probable cause of the grounding incident.

"I still maintain that the Wakashio experienced most of the threats I stated and the wrong fuel is one of them. The captain was not drunk. Investigations are still ongoing, if alcohol was the case then why wasn't he or the crew get breathalysed? The shipping industry is not supportive. The fuel issue shocks everyone and how can it be weathered down. Sea life is dying. Last year some NGOs called for that fuel to be banned. But time will tell," Degnarain told Sputnik.

According to Degnarain, improved technology, artificial intelligence and competitive technology could also help ensure maritime safety.

Ernesta Swanepoel, an admitted South African attorney of the High Court of South Africa who holds qualifications in both marine and environmental law, agrees that the incident raised a range of problems to be addressed.

"The region of Africa in that Southern part of Africa has to come up with future mechanisms that will ensure a quick response. For the mere fact that we are six months down the line [and] the Wakashio issue is still lingering speaks to a lack of resources," Swanepoel said.

She told the seminar that Africa at large should look into two main elements the finalization of a regional plan for preparedness for and response to such incidents and a coordination center.

"It is important to know that the establishment of these solutions will give direction. These are platforms that will ensure that countries collaborate," she concluded.