A more complete picture of the extent of the Wakashio devastation started to reveal itself by Thursday, with several key reports being released.
UN satellites have now revealed 30 kilometers of shoreline along the coast of Mauritius have been heavily affected by the heavier engine fuel oil leaked from the Wakashio.
Contaminated algae has been identified in multiple locations along the East Coast downwind of the wreck (in a Northerly direction), while mangroves affected with the heavy fuel oil have been identified 16 kilometers North of the wreck in Grand Rivere Sud-Est, close to Ile aux Cerfs.
High resolution SAR satellites from the private sector
Pollution in this location was first revealed by private space operators nine days ago. High resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite analysis from Iceye and Ursa Space Systems, on 11 August, just five days after the oil first started leaking, showed the full extent of the spill around the tourism island of Ile aux Cerfs and large industrial aquaculture fish farms on the East Coast.
The extent of the spill could not be fully seen by the naked eye by the coast or from optical satellite imagery. Hence there is a revolution of new satellites with new capabilities that can detect all forms of pollution. The SAR satellites also have much higher sensitivity and can pick up all the reflective surface pollution caused by oil slick, that relies on advanced machine learning analysis, which makes them able to detect much more sensitive incidents of the spill – as can be see in Blue Bay Marine Park (and validated by photographs from the scene showing the slight slick film there). The lower sensitivity UN imagery came out on 19 August, eight days later, confirm Iceye’s initial findings about how rapidly the oil spill had been spreading. Neither does the UN satellites possess the same sensitivity as the more advanced Iceye constellation.
This shows two benefits of private sector satellites: more sensitive and lower latency (i.e., the time it takes to receive the satellites imagery back and be used).
This shows the value of having a low lag time in satellites data (shorter time between a satellite taking an image and it coming to Earth via a downlink station). By having near instantaneous feeds of a situation – as Iceye and Ursa Space Systems had been providing exclusively for Forbes for coverage of the Wakashio incident – important operational decisions can be taken to minimize risk in almost real time, such as where to deploy oil protection booms, how to start preparing other regions of the country.
It was the combination of Iceye’s SAR analysis on 11 August that first revealed Wakashio’s oil was leaking into Blue Bay Marine Park, and this then resulted in the subsequent redeployment of the oil protection booms around Blue Bay (as shown by satellite imagery before and after the information was released).
European Union satellite analysis from 5 days ago
On the same day as the UN Satellite released its map, the EU’s own satellite analysis shows how the flow of oil changed from Monday 10 August to Saturday 15 August, becoming more absorbed into the coastline and many river estuaries on that part of the coast.
Iceye has already released its analysis for where the oil flowed on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 August. The higher sensitivity from the Iceye constellation can be seen within Blue Bay Marine Park, where Iceye and Ursa Space Systems are able to detect the pollution slick on the surface, whereas the EU and UN satellites were not able to.
Getting synthetic aperture radar to work effectively is not trivial and relies on complex reflection calculations and advanced machine learning technologies to refine the signals, that private space operators have been relentlessly refining.
Oil Protection Booms
Also in the statement from the UN, the full extent of the boom operation was revealed, covering a total of 10.9 kilometers in coastal regions alone, these were made up of:
- Blue Bay (nearly 1.76 kilometres), Pointe d’Esny (3.86 kilometres), Ile aux Aigrettes (1.94 kilometres), Pointe Jerome (1.5 kilometres), Mahebourg (300 metres)
- Booms around the MV Wakashio, outside the lagoon were only 90 meters. For comparison, the length of the vessel was 300 meters and the width 50 meters. Hence with an outside surface perimeter of 700 meters, why was the Wakashio not carrying more protective equipment? Should it not be the responsibility of the vessel to ensure a safe passage through the areas it travels through.
- In addition, river booms have been installed at: Riviere des Creoles; Riviere la Chaux; and Riviere Champagne/Ferney.
- Six skimmers are operating at Pointe Jerome, Pointe d’Esny, Ile aux Aigrettes, Mahebourg and Bois des Amourettes.
- New booms and other equipment have arrived from India, and additional skimmers and personnel have been deployed by France.
Impact of spill on large structures in the ocean
More specialists arrive on the island
The UN also revealed that a team of environmental specialists from the International Tanker Owner’s Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and Le Floch Depollution – the international contractor appointed by the Protection and Indemnity Club (P&I), insurers – were onsite in Mauritius and are preparing an action plan for clean-up and restoration of affected sites.
Meanwhile, the President of Nagashiki Shipping was cited in the UN report as having said the following on 19 August, “Regarding compensation, we plan to deal with the issue sincerely based on applicable laws.”