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Mauritius: World’s First Major Spill Of Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil

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This is the conclusion of a Curtin University-led research published a year after bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground in an environmentally sensitive area off Mauritius. The document published bears the following title… “MV Wakashio grounding incident in Mauritius 2020: the world’s first major spillage of Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil”. It was published in Marine Pollution Bulletin

Dr. Alan Scarlett, lead author from the WA Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre in Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said his team got “a sample of oily residue from the Mauritius coastline about eight kilometers from the grounded vessel.” Along with a sample of the Wakashio’s fuel oil, and using a suite of sophisticated chemical and isotopic analyses, he said that the team was able to confirm the spilled oil originated from the fuel tanks of the Wakashio.

“We also found that this was a new class of marine fuel termed a Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, which were made mandatory by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) from January 2020 to reduce harmful emissions from typically sulfur-rich heavy fuel oils,” he added in an article provided by Curtin University and published by phys.org.

Dr Scarlett insisted that very little was known about the behavior and toxicity of the new class of oils. Because of this, the potential impacts of a spill on the marine ecosystem could not be assessed prior to this research.

“Our analyses revealed the quantities of components known to be toxic to marine organisms in the spilled ship’s oil were less than in typical heavy fuel oils. Therefore, the impacts on marine organisms from exposure to toxic compounds in the oil may be less severe than with previous spills that involved older types of marine fuel oil,” Dr. Scarlett said.

He added that after analysis of several other Low Sulfur Fuel Oils, it was found that “some contained higher concentrations of toxic components than the oil discharged in the Mauritius spill”. This means that more research will be needed before we can conclude that all the oil types within this new class pose less of a threat to marine ecosystems than heavy fuel oils.

Because oil spills from ships continue to be a frequent occurrence, it is likely, Dr Scarlett said, we will see further spills involving Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oils. In turn, many countries, including Australia, will be re-evaluating their oil spill response strategies. The results of the research will help these countries and their maritime safety agencies develop new strategies.

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