Japanese-owned bulk carrier MV Wakashio, operated by Nagashiki, struck a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius on July 25th, leaking up to 1,000 tonnes of heavy oil into a pristine lagoon on the edge of protected fragile marine ecosystems and a wetland of international importance. It is one of the worst marine environment disasters on record in the western Indian Ocean.
However, due to legal technicalities, since the oil came from a ship designed to transport solid cargo, Mauritius could be eligible for less than 2% of the maximum compensation available when an oil tanker is responsible for leaks. Had the MV Wakashio been an oil tanker, Mauritius would have been eligible for up to $1 billion in compensation under maritime law. Instead, because it is a bulk carrier, compensation could be capped much lower and Mauritius may be entitled to a maximum of $18 million.
This is particularly troubling considering the focus on blue economic recovery focused upon tourism and fishing in the face of COVID-19 economic impacts.
“By limiting the liability we are allowing companies to externalise the damage to the people that they have harmed rather than taking full responsibility… we need to rethink whether it’s consistent with international environmental law,” Alex Lenferna, a climate justice advocate for 350Africa, whose family originated in Mauritius, told CHN.