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  • Writer's pictureArpit Shah

Extracting extent of Oil Spill in Mauritius

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier owned by Japanese shipping company Nagashiki, was on its way to Brazil from China where it had delivered iron-ore. It was on standby mode, waiting for orders, when it collided with a 'reef' off the south east coast of Mauritius on 25th July 2020. It was carrying 4000 tonnes of fuel and the crash resulted in leakage of around 1000 tonnes (7000 barrels equivalent).

The image below depicts the extent of oil spill as on 10th August 2020.

Much thanks to RUS Copernicus for the training data. Sentinel 1B SAR imagery has a 5 m by 20 m spatial resolution. The results are indicative in nature and for informative purposes only.

Mauritius being a tiny, tourism dependent country, didn't have adequate resources to contain the spill. Its pristine beaches, coral reefs and turquoise lagoons were under severe threat of irreversible damage and, as a result, the government declared a 'state of environmental emergency' and sought help from France in particular (its neighboring island Réunion is an overseas French territory) to deal with this crisis.

Zoomed out version

The good news is that 3000 tonnes (out of 4000 tonnes) of fuel was pumped out of the ship reservoir before it could have leaked. (Note: The ship broke into two a few days after and a major crisis was thus, averted). However, the devastation caused by the oil spill was still significant. Marine creatures were dying in numbers, oil vapors were causing discomfort to nearby residents and the Mauritian economy would suffer due to the impact on tourism in this region.

Source: The National, 8th August 2020

It is important to note, that satellite imagery analysis is 'indicative' in nature i.e. it is influenced by imagery source and imagery analysis parameters.

For example, Finnish micro-satellite ICEYE shared this imagery analysis (below) on 11th August - it shows a greater area affected by oil spill than my finding. This can be due to the fact that ICEYE imagery is more suited - specially calibrated - for oil spill detection than the Sentinel imagery which I have used as my base. Moreover, it is safe to assume that their scientific researchers would be using more finely tuned analysis parameters than what I have used.

Source: URSA - ICEYE, Forbes, 11th August 2020

Compared to Gulf Oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) where 3.19 mn oil barrels were leaked, this incident was much smaller in magnitude. However, there has been an increase in oil pollution related incidents in ecologically sensitive regions recently - in Mauritius as well as other locations (notably in the Arctic Ocean) and this calls for much contemplation about shipping routes used, alternate fuels and other risk aversion measures.

What is undisputed, though, is that the year 2020 is Nature's way to send us a strong reminder to mend our relationship with the environment before it is too late.

Source: ITOPF, Al Jazeera, 13th August 2020


You can read more of my satellite imagery analysis from the links here - 1) Forest Fires in Uttarakhand, 2) Amphan Cyclone, 3) Land Subsidence in Kolkata, 4) Urban Heat Index (UHI) in Mumbai, 5) Ship Detection in Gulf of Kutch and 6) Tropospheric NO2 levels (pre and post lock-down in India).


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