Newspaper reports in Mauritius this week have raised concerns about tampering with the oil fingerprinting linked to the Japanese-owned vessel, the Wakashio.
The vessel ran aground amid a network of highly protected areas in Mauritius at the end of July, and was responsible for the biggest oil spill in Mauritius history 12 days later, setting off a State of National Environmental Emergency in the country and an ecological crisis as endangered species on a highly protected reserve were directly impacted by the spill.
In the national Mauritian newspaper, the Le Mauricien on 4 October 2020, a full page is devoted to the concerns about the handling of the oil fingerprinting by the crew of the Wakashio.
This comes amid questions about the role of the IMO and ITOPF in not facilitating the rapid oil fingerprinting as thousands of animals have now washed up dead in the South of Mauritius, over 50 whales and dolphins have died, and an entire island of highly endangered species are at risk.
This oil fingerprinting is crucial to understand the potential long-term impacts on these species, as it acts as a DNA signature to help scientists model the impact of the oil on Mauritius’ unique ecosystem.
Serious flaws in handling of oil samples to date
In the article published on October 4, the newspaper identifies several serious flaws with the way the oil sample could have potentially been handled on board the vessel.
The biggest concern was that the sample collection did not follow IMO guidelines on independently validating the collection sites and ensuring clear chain of custody protocols, with a member of the inspecting authority (Mauritius) present during collection.
A member of Mauritius investigating authority should have been present on board the Wakashio to verify and agree where the sample was collected from within the large engine of a ship (which can often be as large as a school building). This would have ensured a clear chain of custody provenance of the samples. The Le Mauricien article highlights that with COVID-19 restrictions, Mauritian authorities were not boarding the Wakashio. Hence there are questions whether these samples would meet the strict conditions set in court.
Fortunately, the engine part of the wreck remains on the reefs of Mauritius, and the salvage crew have not yet arrived for the