India must treat the oil spill near Mauritius as SoS. Lockdown has left seafarers exhausted

he Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius is facing one of its most serious crises in its modern history. On 21 July, around a week into its voyage from Singapore to the Brazilian port of Tubarao, the MV Wakashio, a 300-metre long bulk carrier, owned and operated by Japanese companies, deviated from its course and headed towards Mauritius instead of the regular shipping lanes several nautical miles south of it. A few days later, it struck a reef just over a kilometre from the shore, ran aground, spilled around a 1,000 tons of oil into the sea, before splitting into two. A major portion of the front part of the massive ship (or the “bow”) has been towed some distance to the south where it has been allowed to sink. The remaining parts lie on the reef, as weather and sea conditions do not permit its disposal. The ship’s 20-member crew has been arrested by the Mauritius authorities, and its captain, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, an Indian national, has been charged with endangering safe navigation.

Even without accounting for the Covid-19 pandemic, Mauritius is under-equipped to deal with environmental and economic disasters the marine accident has brought upon the nation. Over the past month, French and Indian marine disaster management personnel have joined their local counterparts in containing the damage, and Japanese and other international experts are to follow in the coming days.