The MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier owned by Nagashiki Shipping Co., was on charter to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. (MOL) when it ran aground off Mauritius on July 25.
The massive oil spill that resulted has not only impacted heavily on local mangrove forests, but also appears to have caused considerable damage to the Indian Ocean island nation’s globally invaluable ecosystem and tourist resources that sustain the local economy.
In a statement issued Aug. 14, the Mauritius government referred to “an adverse economic, social and environmental impact on the population and the environment,” and announced its intention to seek full compensation from the vessel’s owner and insurer.
Nagashiki Shipping stated in response: “We are keenly aware of our responsibility. We will handle the matter of compensation with sincerity and in keeping with pertinent laws.”
Personnel from Nagashiki Shipping as well as MOL reportedly arrived in Mauritius on Aug. 12. The Japanese government also dispatched a Japan Disaster Relief Expert team consisting of oil removal experts, who will be joined shortly by environmental experts.
The disaster occurred far away from Japan, and the difficulty of getting there was compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. But even so, now more than three weeks have passed since the Wakashio ran aground, and more than 10 days since heavy oil began to spill.
Stopping any further damage is a matter of great urgency, and the parties concerned must do everything in their power for speedy restoration. They need to heed local requests and consider sending additional personnel and resources, if necessary.
It goes without saying that the parties involved in the accident must live up to their full responsibilities. At the same time, no cooperation should be spared by the Japanese government, which has been a participant in various international programs designed to protect biodiversity.
Sincerity is also vital in investigating the cause of the accident and compensating for damage. According to a local newspaper report, some Wakashio crew members told local police investigators that they maneuvered the vessel closer to an island so as to connect to WiFi. The whole truth must be brought to light.
Under international treaties, the entire responsibility of an accident must be borne by the shipowner, while the upper limit of the compensation payment is determined, in principle, by the ship’s size and other factors.
In the Wakashio’s case, the amount is expected to be several billion yen (tens of millions of dollars).
How the system works would depend on the scale of the actual damage and the specific cause of the accident. There is an international fund for the compensation of oil spills from tankers to cover damage exceeding the upper limits under international treaties, but it has been pointed out that there is no such fund for non-tanker vessels.
In any case, the one outcome that must be avoided at all costs is to force Mauritius to accept an unfair settlement. For that, the Japanese government must keep a close eye on further developments.
Back in 1997, the Russian tanker Nakhodka broke up and spilled oil in the Sea of Japan, causing massive damage along the Japanese coast. In this age of globalized corporate activities and distribution of goods, Japan must never forget its responsibility to protect the environment for the sake of the entire planet Earth.