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.

MAURITIUS-ENVIRONMENT-DISASTER-OIL
Photo : GETTY IMAGES

High resolution SAR satellites from the private sector

11 August: The extent of the silky film from the oil spill is picked up by high sensitivity SAR satellites.
Photp : URSA SPACE SYSTEM

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 advanced capabilities of the latest synethtic apeture radar satellites, supporting with machine learning
Photo : ICEYE

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.

Latency matters

9 August 2020: original deployment of oil protection boom
Photo : MAXAR Technologies

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).

11 August: Higher sensitivity SAR reveals full extent of the spill
Photo : URSA SPACE SYSTEMS
12 August: re-deployment of oil protection booms to fully protect the lagoon of Blue Bay Marine Park based on SAR analysis
Photo : MAXAR Technologies

European Union satellite analysis from 5 days ago

10 August and 15 August: analysis from the EU released on 19 August reveal the flow of the pollution over time.  This analysis was conducted with lower resolution than the Iceye constellation
Phooto : European Commision

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.

15 Aug: flow of the oil spill
Photo : URSA SPACE SYSTEMS
16 August: the flow of the spill varies again, and traces are still available in Blue Bay Marine Park
Photo : URSA SPACE SYSTEM

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

11 August: the oil from the Wakashio can be seen drifting around the large aquaculture farms in the East of the country, just North of the Wakashio spill
Photo : URSA SPACE SCIENCE
11 August: traces of the oil slick can be seen drifting North of Ile aux Cerfs, 14 miles North from the Wakashio wreck, just 5 days after the vessel had started to leak oil.
Photo : URSA SPACE SYSTEMS
11 August: Zooming into Blue Bay Marine Park using the high resolution SAR satellites, it is clear that there are traces of the oil slick within the lagoon.  These were not picked up by the UN or EU satellites.
Photo : URSA SPACE SYSTEM

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.”