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Accident date
Accident area
South of Mauritius on a coral reef
Spill area
Cause of spill
Quantity transported
3,800 t of VLSFO, 200 t of marine diesel, 90 t of lubricant oil
Ship / structure type
Bulk carrier
Built date
299 m
50 m
17.9 m
Okiyo Maritime Corporation
Nagashiki Kisen KK
Mitsui OSK Lines
P&I Club
Japan P&I Club
IMO number

The incident

On 25th July 2020, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier MV Wakashio, with a 20-strong crew, was sailing unladen from Singapore to Brazil when it ran aground on a coral reef 1.3 nautical miles off Esny Point in southern Mauritius. At the time of writing, the causes of the grounding have yet to be confirmed. The crew was safely evacuated; the ship however was stranded on its stern and could not free itself. As the MV Wakashio was unladen when it ran aground, the main risk for the marine environment was the vessel’s bunkers: 3,800 tonnes of VLSFO - Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (<0.5 %), as well as 200 tonnes of marine diesel and 90 tonnes of lubricant oil.

No leaks were observed in the immediate aftermath. As a precaution, the Mauritian authorities activated the national oil spill contingency plan and alerted a number of foreign countries, including France given the proximity with Reunion Island. They also worked to source tugs that were powerful enough to be able to refloat the vessel.

Three days after the vessel ran aground, the Mauritian coastguard detected small-scale oil leaks in the lagoon and laid spill response booms around the MV Wakashio as a protective measure. Personnel and equipment were dispatched and, by 3rd August, experts from SMIT (salvage), two tugs and one supply vessel sent by the shipowner as well as a tug (VB Cartier) provided by the French authorities were on site.

Despite the resources deployed, it proved impossible to refloat the vessel.

The grounding occurred in an ecologically sensitive area, near a marine park and wetlands of international importance. It is also a popular tourist destination.


Spill response

On 6th August, the situation began to deteriorate: the vessel was openly leaking oil and a slick could be seen at the surface. An estimated 400 tonnes of fuel oil were spilt. At this stage, the risks for Reunion Island appeared relatively low. However, the Commander of the Southern Indian Ocean Maritime Zone requested that Cedre put the drift committee into pre-alert mode.

At the same time, under the sub-regional oil spill contingency plan for the Western Indian Ocean Islands, the French authorities sent equipment to Mauritius by plane and ship (on board the French Navy overseas support and assistance vessel Champlain), including 800 m of manufactured boom, skimmers, sorbents and pumps.

Two-thirds of the POLMAR shoreline response equipment stockpile on Reunion Island was thus made available to the Mauritian authorities, while the POLMAR offshore response stockpile was retained in case the spill reached French waters.

On 9th August, the cracks that had appeared several days previously along the hull widened significantly, jeopardising the ship’s integrity. The possibility of towing only part of the vessel began to emerge.

The next day, in addition to the equipment mobilised, 11 French experts were deployed to provide on-site spill response support. By this point the volume of oil spilt had been re-estimated at between 500 and 1,000 m 3.

Pumping operations to remove the oil remaining onboard began. The majority of the remaining fuel oil has been removed by 12th August. At the end of operations, the salvage company announced that 3,200 tonnes of oil had been removed from the MV Wakashio, suggesting that the quantity spilled was somewhere in the region of 600 m3. However doubts later emerged over this figure. Shoreline clean-up began, involving many local volunteers.

The Breton company Le Floch Dépollution was contracted by the shipowner.

On the 13th, an expert from Cedre joined the experts from CEPPOL who had arrived on Reunion Island the previous day. They joined the MV Wakashio command centre under the auspices of the Prefect for the Southern Indian Ocean Maritime Zone.

The cracks in the wreck continued to worsen. On the 15th, the MV Wakashio broke in two during a towing attempt.

On the 17th, Cedre and CEPPOL arrived in Mauritius. They took part in the work of the national incident management unit, each focusing on their own field of expertise. The advisor from Cedre conducted shoreline surveys, in particular in the mangrove area, and provided the Mauritian authorities with a report together with clean-up recommendations.

Again on the 17th, the stern section was towed out to sea. The Mauritian authorities were considering scuttling this part of the vessel, an option that was not recommended by the French authorities. Through its ambassador, France expressed its stance to the Mauritian authorities. The letter indicated however that if this solution were to be chosen, several conditions would need to be met. Drift forecasts, produced from various geographical positions by the drift committee led by Cedre, helped to fulfil some of these conditions. Salvage operations continued on the stern section, with the aim of removing all contaminants. Scuttling of the bow section began on 20th August. It was announced to have sunk on the 24th.

The stern section was still in place and showing a 10° list.

The experts from Cedre and CEPPOL returned to Reunion Island on the 25th, before heading back to Brest.

Actions by Cedre

In addition to the on-site mission, Cedre provided support to the French and Mauritian authorities from Brest in other ways:

  • consultation between members of the drift committee. Given that there was no real risk of the oil reaching the coastline of Reunion Island, the drift committee was composed only of experts from Ifremer, Météo-France and SHOM. This committee generated drift forecasts from the wreck and worked on the potential scenarios for the scuttling of the bow section of the vessel;
  • from September, the first laboratory analysis was conducted on samples of oil taken by the Mauritian authorities in order to characterise it and confirm that the samples of oil stranded on the shoreline matched the other samples and matched the oil from the MV Wakashio;
  • a study was conducted on the sorption properties of hair. Cedre had received many enquiries concerning the possibility of using sorbent booms made from hair. This type of custom-boom has been used in Mauritius, generating a lot of interest, and media attention, and proposals to send stocks of hair to the island. Although this initiative is commendable, the results unfortunately showed that the sorption capacity of hair is limited, but above all that it is very hydrophilic and quickly becomes water-laden and sinks even before it had absorbed the oil.

Latest update

No oil reached the shores of Reunion Island. On 5th November, the Chinese salvage company Lianyungang Dali Underwater Engineering was contracted by the shipowner to dismantle the stern section of the MV Wakashio which was still grounded. The work was scheduled to begin in December 2020 and end in spring 2021. Due to weather conditions, operations did not begin until mid-February and were interrupted shortly afterwards by the hurricane season. Wreck removal operations resumed on 1st June, at a pace dependent on sea conditions. Until dismantling is completed, while the risk of significant oil leaks is considered to be low, spill response equipment remains preventively on stand-by, as well as booms in the vicinity of the neighbouring Blue Bay Marine Park shoreline.

Cedre returned to the island in January 2021 to assist and advise the Mauritian authorities in assessing end-points for clean-up operations. Forty-seven sites were visited.


Last update on 22/01/2021

See also

- Another grounding and pollution in the same area: the bulk carrier Benita on June 17, 2016. See page 9 of the Sea & Shore Technical News

- Spills on coral reefs:

- MV Wakashio grounding incident in Mauritius 2020: The world's first major spillage of Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, Marine Pollution Bulletin, october 2021

- Ground of the bulk carrier Wakashio in Mauritius. Bulletin d’information du Cedre, 2021 n° 41

External links

IMO information about this accident

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