Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change
Hon. Kavydass Ramano
Government of Mauritius
Minister of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping
Hon. Sudheer Maudhoo
Government of Mauritius
cc Junichiro Ikeda
Representative Director, President
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.
cc Akihiko Ono
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.
cc Masanori Kato
Managing Executive Officer
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.
cc Kiyoaki Nagashiki
Chief Executive Officer
Nagashiki Shipping Co., Ltd
Johannesburg, 14 September 2020
Hon. Kavydass Ramano, Hon. Sudheer Maudhoo
Following the grounding of the Japanese chartered and owned MV Wakashio, we wrote to you on 24 August 2020, with a number of questions about the Government’s response to this unfolding disaster. We have not yet had a reply. This is not what we would expect from a Government that has a democratic and constitutional mandate to act in a transparent and accountable manner towards its citizens, who are justifiably concerned about the damage to the environment and the impact on their livelihoods of the oil spill from the ship.
As a reminder, it was on the 25th of July 2020 that the MV Wakashio struck an irreplaceable coral reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast. The oil in the ship started to leak on 6 August and has damaged one of the most beautiful places in the world, along with the livelihoods of the people who live there. At the same time, your inaction has created an environmental crisis, putting the biodiversity within the lagoons at significant risk, including the mangrove forests and many unique and endangered species.
As the Government of Mauritius you are responsible for ensuring the protection of the environment and the livelihoods of your citizens, especially those impacted by the oil spill. You however, have neglected to take into account the fact that even if surface oil may be removed or dispersed, there is a significant threat of longer-term damage to the ecosystems on which many of the Mauritian people and wildlife depend.
We therefore call on you, as the Government of Mauritius to urgently communicate progress on the following:
- A fully public, independent investigation conducted into the causes and consequences of the disaster, funded by Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping.
- The assurance that an independent scientific assessment of the ecosystems is carried out, which encompasses the degree of impact both for humans and nature, and should include both short and long term monitoring. The investigation must be done by independent academic-scientific experts who have a proven track record of investigating oil spills along with scientific experts with in-depth knowledge of the local ecosystems and the pre-existing pressures that they face. These investigators must have no connection to Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping and their Keiretsu, and their findings must be made public.
- An independent scientific and social investigation of the impacts on livelihoods (eg artisanal fisheries, tourism, local human health impacts) and impacted communities must also get underway urgently.
The Government of Mauritius’ steps to ensure that compensation from the shipping companies, their insurers and other concerned parties takes into account the several-decade-long consequences of the spill (economic, social, environmental etc), and properly compensates the affected communities including those in the informal sectors. The government’s establishment of a simple and appropriate system for application for compensation. Where secure urgent and appropriate prepayments of financial support to those affected is given effect to.
In addition, we communicated what we believe are a minimum of key actions that must be undertaken to deal with the current crisis effectively:
- Initiation of a review of separate transport shipping lanes with regards to “innocent passage” through Mauritian waters. This oil spill is a key indicator that the government must facilitate a new shipping lane system that would exclude sensitive regions to avoid a repeat of the current oil spill in future. The Government of Mauritius should propose to the IMO that its waters be designated a Particular Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA), whereby an Area-to-Be-Avoided (ATBA) 50 nautical miles from shore for any transit shipping is established. These transit ships are called vessels on “Innocent Passage” that are beyond nation-state control, except if there is an IMO PSSA requiring an ATBA for all ship routing. Since these measures take time to enact, as an interim measure the government should request voluntary compliance with a 50 nautical mile ATBA off Mauritius. There is absolutely no excuse for a transit ship to be anywhere near the shore of Mauritius.
- Under no circumstances should the wreck of the ship simply be sunk. We were particularly concerned about the proposal, and we urged you to consult internationally on what alternative options existed, while taking steps to prevent the ship from further breaking up or sinking. Sinking this vessel is risking several whale species and has contaminated the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Réunion. However, the ship has been sunk and in less than 24 hours, we have seen a record number of beaching incidents have occurred. Mauritius has not respected the London Convention 1972, Malta – the flag state of the vessels towing MV Wakashio’s wreck – is required to prohibit and prevent its vessels from dumping waste including vessels at sea, if polluting content has not been removed to the maximum extent. The stern of the ship remains in place, and we understand a decision will soon be made on what can be done. We strongly urge that you do not simply have it towed away and dumped like you allowed with the forward part. Such action is against international conventions designed to protect the oceans and prevent such abhorrent activities happening. Albeit that Mauritius has yet to ratify the London Protocol, the fact remains that dumping would be an affront to the international community. It would undermine any claims that the Government of Mauritius could make that it has any concern about the ocean environment and the livelihoods of its citizens.
- There is no doubt that accountability is necessary and transparency must be exercised in handling the oil spill, including being visible and regularly communicating publicly about the situation and the action being taken. We still recommend that the government holds a daily public meeting to update communities and the media, and that it provides data behind the decisions being taken – including the latest decision regarding shellfish being too toxic to eat.
- It is critical that the Government of Mauritius begins to facilitate independent documentation of the situation on the ground, which is then shared publicly and transparently.
- The Government of Mauritius should initiate long term monitoring to assess the impacts of the oil spill and attempts to remove the oil on the area’s biodiversity.
- The Government of Mauritius should utilise to the fullest the learnings and experiences from earlier numerous oil spills to minimise the environmental, social, economic and other consequences of the disaster.
- The Government of Mauritius must be fully transparent and accountable in terms of how it is managing financial flows, particularly money donated to help remove the oil as best as possible.
As a member of AOSIS, the Republic of Mauritius will be aware that the climate crisis is an existential threat and that in response to it, there is a movement consisting of millions of people across the world who are taking action. This oil spill is a tragic and devastating reminder that fossil fuels are toxic, and our reliance on them puts both people and the planet at risk.
We request a response from you to this letter indicating the steps you intend to take to address this crisis – in writing – by 18 September 2020.
Thank you so much for this letter. I hope the Mauritian Govt will take action - finally - and give us Mauritians the answers it owes us...
We want accountability.