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Wakashio Oil Spill: Greenpeace Africa highlights lack of transparency, backdoor deals, rash decisions…

Le wakashio échoué a l'île Maurice

Critics are rising up against the government in Mauritius for the Wakashio Oil spill that caused the worst ever ecological disaster in the island’s history. In an email conversation with aufait.media, Tal Harris, International Communications Coordinator, Greenpeace Africa, highlights “lack of transparency”, “unclear backdoor deals”, rash decisions and ominous assessment and monitoring of this tragic event. This rejoins international experts who previously blamed the Mauritian government’s inappropriate response.

Greenpeace Africa sent two letters concerning the oil spillage caused by the Wakashio wreck to the Mauritian government. Both have gone unheeded. “You will see that our letters, as well as previous press releases, all speak first and foremost about the need for a scientific, public, and independent led investigation and for information to be publicly available”, Tal Harris, International Communications Coordinator, Greenpeace Africa, tells Aufait.media. 

He adds: “we regret that this has not been the case so far and based on our experience from other oil spills, as well as on our work with Mauritian NGO Dis Moi, we are convinced that public trust during such disasters as the oil spill in Mauritius can only be achieved through transparent work by the Mauritian authorities”.

Greenpeace Africa asks for an independent scientific investigation which should be financed by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the Charterer of the Wakashio. In a letter sent to the Japanese company, Greenpeace says  the investigation should be done by “independent academic-scientific experts who have a proven track record of investigating oil spills, and are unconnected to Mitsui O.S.K”. The investigators should also have no connection to the Government of Mauritius to remain truly independent, argues the NGO. 

The funding for this investigation should be channelled through a local NGO with solid financial and ethical standing to ensure the money is not misused, advises Greenpeace. “We do not believe that using the Mauritius government’s Special Bank Account would allow for the transparency and accountability that is required“. 

The NGO adds that it does not consider the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) to be an independent body relying, as it does, on both the oil and tanker industries and geared towards their interests and not that of the environment or local communities. “Their work should be supplemented by a fully independent investigation, the terms and results of which should be made publicly available”, highlights Greenpeace Africa.Tal Harris explained that Greenpeace Africa got involved “so closely” in this disaster even though it has no office in Mauritius, after being contacted by many people on the island “who were anxious and angry and wanted the world to see and support their country in this difficult time”.

Lack of transparency on many issues

According to him, there are different instances in which the Government of Mauritius could have been transparent in its communications with the public. 

These missed opportunities are:

  • The non-transparent investigations into the original accident:It is still unclear what happened, unclear why the Government of Mauritius and the ship did not react in the first 12 days and why the population was not properly supported. It is unclear why experts were not called in on 25 July and why local expertise is not being harnessed by the government and why Japan is leading the investigation”.
  • Impact investigations on nature impacts:People do not know what is happening with their mangroves, Ramsar areas and so on. There is only very limited information on health risks, the state of fish and seafood”.
  • Dolphin and whales deaths:It remains unclear where the dead bodies are, what labs are doing the autopsies in La Réunion (in Mauritius they were examined in the Albion Fisheries Research Center), what exactly they are analyzing on them, when and if results will be published”.
  • Lack of involvement of local population and diaspora: Massive local knowledge on the island. This is despite the massive role of the local population in initial oil cleanup local people are still closed out from key areas.
  • Sinking of the front part (the bow): It’s unclear who made the decision to sink the front part of the Wakashio, unclear where exactly the ship is now, unclear what state the vessel was when it was sunk, no consultation with flag ships of tugs that towed vessel to site of sinking, etc
  • Cleanup efforts largely secretive: Local population is closed out, key players selected and coordinated by Japan P&I Club
  • IMO, UN expert: Their mandate was not clear and there were contradicting statements
  • Unclear compensation talks: The Government of Mauritius seems to try to make unclear backdoor deals with Japan, no claims office is set up, and unclear how the compensation discussions are ongoing based on international law.
  • Mangroves affected by the oil spill:  “At least one NGOs has been allowed in the affected area to assess damage in the mangroves and for cleaning purposes. However, it is not transparent what is the state of the affected mangroves, what methods have been used and will be used to clean the area. Some cleaning methods are extremely hazardous to the environment”.
  • How much oil has spilled in fact? How much of it was collected?

In addition to that, Greenpeace had expressed strong reservations about the dumping of the front of the MV Wakashio. “It seems to have been an awfully rash decision and its consequences for the ocean and for biodiversity may haunt us for many years. It also has consequences for the effectiveness of and adherence to international environmental agreements”, says Tal Harris.

A proper assessment and monitoring of the damage is exactly what is lacking. “As mentioned above, the situation certainly looks very ominous in terms of the impact on biodiversity, people’s livelihood and – most importantly – their health. We know that oil spills elsewhere have had impacts for decades. However, without appropriate monitoring, sampling of oil and biological surveys, consultations with coastal communities and other affected populations on the island, and without making these data publicly available – there is no way to conclude the scope of damage caused to the island”, says Tal Harris.

That lack of information undermines the principle that Greenpeace firmly upholds, he adds, that is “polluters must pay.” “Our campaigners and volunteers in Japan have been consistently putting pressure on the responsible Japanese companies. But, if the knowledge of the damages caused is not made clear by Mauritian authorities and the United Nations experts on the ground, it is unlikely that we’ll see the polluters picking up the bill. That would obviously leave the Mauritians both to suffer the direct damages caused by the oil spill and pay for them. No one should want that,” he concludes.