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Wakashio: Japan P&I cleaning subcontractors’ end operations

Île aux Aigrettes

Following the completion of the shorelines clean up by Polyeco and Le Floch Dépollution, Japan P&I, the insurer of owners of the MV Wakashio, organized a media tour for an overview of the current state of the shoreline which was affected by the oil spill. 

Japan P&I subcontracted the cleaning of the shorelines to Le Floch Dépollution and Polyeco,  each started their operations on the 12th and 23rd of August respectively. Both companies were eager to announce that they’ve completed their operations regarding the clean up of the shorelines. 

Nikolas Vlachos, Incident commander for Polyeco, explained that they’ve cleaned approximately 21 km of shorelines, starting from Blue Bay, Ilot Brocus, Riviere des Creoles as well as the island of Mouchoir Rouge, Île aux Aigrettes, Île aux Fouquets, and the lagoon areas but it was not without any difficulties.

Polyeco faced their own share of difficulties while cleaning their allocated sites, such as the sea level, and delicate ecosystems.  

“We had high-low tides and very delicate ecosystems such as the mangroves. By using our techniques we were able to clean the coral shorelines and apply the necessary techniques to each site,” he explained. 

In the case of Île aux Aigrettes, which has a perimeter of 1800 meters, Polyeco used absorbent materials to clean the island at first and then followed with the use of a technique called flushing.

“We used flushing, that is, a high volume, low-pressure flushing in order to remove the oil that was trapped inside the corals. As for the vertical holes, we used high-pressure flushing, which had to be very specific, and very delicate for this side of the coral only in order to remove the last trace of the oil,” he said. 

Nikolas Vlachos, also emphasized that they have cleaned the shorelines at a satisfactory level and that they are waiting for an endpoint visit with Cedre, who is an international expert in accidental water pollution. It is up to Cedre and the Ministry of Environment to sign off the different sites or to advise for additional cleaning up.

“Whatever needs to be done, we want the place to be delivered back to the Mauritian people clean,” he added. 

Polyeco finished its operations on the 31st of December, a month before its initial deadline. 

As for the other half of the affected shorelines, it was assigned to Le Floch Dépollution, which consisted of Riviere des Creoles, Vieux Grand Port, Bois des Amourettes, Providence, 

Anse Jonchée, and Bambous Virieux which is approximately twenty kilometres. 

Poline Morvan, Operations Coordinator, for Le Floch Dépollution explained that the first team to have reached Mauritius arrived on the 12th of August 2020, and it took them one week to get settled. 

“It took a week for preparation, that is the scouting of all the sites that had been impacted, preparing the action plan, presenting it to the government to be approved, and the time of the delivery of the materials. We were able to start the clean-up operations on the 19th August 2020 which lasted until the 9th January 2021,” she said. 

She also explained that they did respect their set deadlines but it was not without its own difficulties. 

“It was very difficult because there was a part of the pollution which was obviously visible all over the coast but also a lot of oil which was buried under the sand, not visible to the naked eye. It was necessary to dig and we did have a site that was very impacted by this oil which was buried and therefore hidden,” she explained.

The Operations Coordinator also highlighted that each site came with its own difficult characteristics such as Riviere des Creoles’ mangroves and Anse Jonchée was quite a flat site. 

“There were several sites that had different characteristics, for example, in Riviere des Creoles, it was difficult for the personnel to access the mangroves without damaging it more than the oil already did. Another difficulty was in Anse Jonchée, which is very flat and therefore muddy, it was difficult to access,” she explained. 

All operations having ended on the 9th of January, the estimated waste that has been collected amounted to 1300 cubic meters of liquid waste and 7900 cubic meters of solid waste. This estimation might change as the counting is still ongoing. The liquid waste is being treated in Mauritius by Virgin Oil and Ecofuel, while the solid waste will be sent abroad as it is toxic and Mauritius doesn’t have the required equipment. 

Mauritian’s involvement in cleaning the shorelines

Both Polyeco and Le Floch Dépollution explained that Mauritians helped to clean up the shorelines. On Polyeco’s side, Nikolas Vlachos emphasized that Mauritians were offered everyday training as well as toolbox talks. 

“We made sure everyone followed the right safety procedures, they all had their personal protective equipment,” he said.

“I totally believe that if something happens, they would be ready to respond with or without us,” he added. 

As for Le Floch Dépollution, Poline Morvan explained that they recruited approximately 200 to 250 Mauritians via a local company to work with them. 

“The training took a little time but during the 5 months, we could see the evolution of these people who did a formidable job especially in conditions that weren’t favorable with the sun, all the equipment of protection, and sometimes in areas that were difficult to access. We really thank them very much because without them it would have been impossible to do this work,” she added.

On a finishing note, Polyeco’s Incident Commander added that the greatest challenge now remains the preservation of a clean environment. “It’s like a reset, you have it cleaned, respect it and keep it clean,” he said.