NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Edward Mithamo
By Sea and Coast | 04/01/2021



On 25th July, 2020, MV Wakishio ran aground off Pointe d'Esny, south of Mauritius. The Japanese owned bulk carrier ran aground after hitting coral reef at around 1600hrs UTC. The vessel then began to gradually leak 1,000 tons of fuel into the ocean. Leading to a modern times ecological catastrophe of unparalleled proportions.

The effects of this oil spill on the environment will be widely felt especially by the communities that boarder the ocean. However the question that should be on people’s minds is; why did it take so long for countries and relevant bodies to respond to the grounding incident knowing there could be a potential oil spill? Was Mauritius prepared for such an incident? Could the spill of be avoided? What can neighboring countries and the rest of the world learn from this oil spill?

The rate at which maritime accidents have been occurring in recent years has been alarming. This continues to be detrimental towards efforts in maritime, species and overall environmental preservation. The strides we have made in preserving the sea, our great unifier, could soon be eroded if we do not mitigate the catastrophe that is caused by maritime accidents. We have spent decades industrializing and building and now it’s time we protect and preserve.

So what exactly happened

At the end of 25th July 2020, the bulk carrier MV Wakishio was stranded on the coral reefs off the coast of Mauritius. Oil started spilling from the vessel on 6th Aug and by 10th Aug about 1,000 tons had spilled into the ocean. It then became quite clear that Mauritius did not have a contingency plan or the response capacity to deal with the oil spill.

On 7th August 2020 the Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency stating that the oil spill was endangering the lives of the local people. He went ahead to admit that they did not have the capability or the necessary equipment to deal with the oil spill. France, Japan and the International Maritime Authority (IMO) collaborated to aid local Mauritius authorities. The vessel split into two on 15th August but by then 3000 tons of oil that was in the vessel had already been pumped out into a barge

Investigations are still underway to find out what really happened and what mistakes were done by the crew on board, by the owners of the vessel, by the Mauritius government and port authorities that led to the occurrence of the accident.

Was Mauritius Prepared?

The Mauritius government knew about the risks of such a maritime disaster happening off their coast line. Mauritius does have a National oil spill contingency plan in place which was drafted with the help of the United Nations and the IMO. Mauritius and its neighboring countries have been beneficiaries of several multimillion dollar projects. These projects were aimed at ensuring that they have a regional contingency plan to major marine pollution incidents in the West Indian ocean. Such a project was the West Indian Ocean Maritime Highway Development and Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention Project (WIOMH).

The WIOMH project which incorporated Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius among other countries along the West Indian Ocean run from 2008 to 2012 and had an aim of implementing a fully tested and operational National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and implementing a regional oil spill contingency plan. The project had budget of $24 million.

One of the main outcomes of this project was that a Regional Response Centre would be opened to ensure that there is a dedicated center which not only monitors maritime transport in the region but also has a dedicated team to respond to any maritime accidents if and when they occur.

Once the project was completed, the countries that were interested in hosting the RRC placed their bids. Kenya was among the countries that applied to host the RRC but South Africa won the bid.

Since the RRC was established, it has been a dormant organization. Its involvement in the regional oil spill matters has been non-existent and they did not even assist in the recent oil spill involving MV Wakishio. This begs the question, what is the role of the RRC if not to aid in an oil spill crisis?

How does Kenya fit in?

The possibility of an oil spill occurring in Kenyan waters is quite high. This is due to the fact that most of the banker vessels coming from the Middle East pass through Kenyan waters and also due to the fact that a lot of banker vessels call the port of Mombasa on a day to day basis. Any form of pollution in the high seas would have a great impact on the Kenya Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

An illustrative example of the risk is demonstrated by an oil spill incident that occured in 2005 when the vessel Mt Ratna Shalini (5,5178 GT) punctured its hull while berthing at the Port of Mombasa oil terminal. About 200 tons of oil spilled into the sea. This oil spill spread on shoreline impacting on tourism, mangroves, port operations, fishing, and marine organisms. The report from the incident identified weaknesses in the current regime and recommended the need to review the existing regime for effective oil spill response in the future.

Question is, since then, what has Kenya done to prepare itself as a nation in case of a major oil spill? It is no secret that petroleum products contribute to about 30% of the total goods imported into Kenya. Over the last decade, demand for petroleum products has risen prompting Kenya to import more for its expanding economy. It is estimated that the consumption of petroleum products will increase up to 12 million MT to meet Kenya's Vision 2030.

(Kenya Law, 2006) designates Kenya Maritime Authority as the competent oil spill response Authority. The law also provides for the development, coordination, and management of a national oil spill contingency plan for coastal waters. Kenya Maritime Authority is mandated to collaborate with other public agencies and institutions in the prevention of marine source pollution, marine environment protection and response to marine incidents (KMA, 2014). The Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) 1999, provides for states to develop regulations to control and prevent pollution of the marine environment from vessels used in coastal zones and from installations and devices used in the exploration or exploitation of the natural resources of the seabed and subsoil of the exclusive economic zone (Kenya Law, 1999).

Kenya has adopted a national system for oil emergency preparedness to deal with oil pollution occurring in areas where it exercises its sovereign rights. In 2010, Kenya developed the National Oil Spill Response Contingency Plan. The plan outlines the list of actions to be taken in the event of an oil spill and different roles assigned to appropriate authorities. The plan also describes communication procedure to be followed including the list of contact person, oil spill inventory equipment and their location, contractors, suppliers, experts, and a map of sensitive areas. The document includes a procedure for compensation and recovery of oil spill damage costs (KMA, 2014). Major oil companies in Kenya have formed an Oil Spill Mutual Aid Group with the aim of responding to oil spills within the Port of Mombasa. Each oil company is obliged to have an oil spill safety plan. Kenya Ports Authority and other future port operators along the Kenyan coasts are also required to maintain oil spill preparedness within the Kenyan Ports.


It is admirable that Kenya has a National Oil response contingency plan but how practical is it? Are we really prepared? The answer is a resounding No. We are not prepared and our oil response contingency plan is more theoretical than practical. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that we are not only ready in case an oil spill occurs in our Kenyan waters but we are also ready to assist our neighboring countries incase such a maritime catastrophe occurs in their maritime waters. Oil spill disasters have a very huge impact to the environment and its organisms which lead to severe effects to flora and fauna. Prevention and preparedness is better than cure so let’s ensure that the right people are sufficiently trained and let’s ensure that we have the right technology and equipment to contain an oil spill if it ever occurs.

#Sea and coast