Removal of Wakashio stern begins

Barge Hong Bang 6, belonging to the Chinese firm Lianyungang Dali Underwater Engineering, has arrived at the wreck site of the stern of bulk carrier Wakashio in Mauritius to begin the removal of the stern of the bulker.

The front two-thirds of the giant bulk carrier were towed 30 km offshore and scuttled last year.

The parts will be transported by the barge to Port-Louis harbour. They will then be depolluted and cut into smaller pieces. They will then be handed over to Samlo, a local scrap-metal recycling specialist.

The Wakashio has been stuck on the reef since last July.

The operation is expected to be completed by the end of March, although this will depend on the weather.

The bow of the 225-metre ore carrier was scuttled by Smit International about 20nm from Old Grand Port.

The Hong Bang 6 is on site, alongside three tugs.

The risk of pollution is considered to be low, but Greece-based Polyeco has lined up a skimmer boat on site, and anti-pollution booms have been installed around the neighbouring Blue Bay Marine Park, a designated Ramsar site.

One of the three fuel tanks split a couple of weeks after the grounding, due to the stress on the hull. Nearly 1,000 tonnes of fuel spilled into the lagoon and spread rapidly, because no anti-pollution barrier had been installed. The vessel split into two parts a few days after that.

Mauritius has demanded that Japan, the home state of the company operating the vessel, pay $34m in reparations for the accident.

It was widely believed to be the single worst ecological disaster to hit the Indian Ocean island, and was made more complex because the vessel concerned was not an oil tanker. The oil that had caused the contamination was the vessel’s fuel. While there are established international conventions and compensation schemes for when oil tankers cause pollution, the situation is less clear when an environmental disaster follows a grounding by a bulk carrier.