• Reuters, AFP-Jiji

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Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. said on Friday it would spend about ¥1 billion ($9.42 million) to pay for measures to help Mauritius, including the clean-up of a mangrove forest and contribution to an environmental recovery fund.

A bulk carrier chartered by the Japanese shipping company ran aground on a reef in Mauritius on July 25 and later began leaking oil, causing a marine ecological disaster around the Indian Ocean island.

“The owner of the ship takes primary legal responsibility, but we, as the charterer of the ship, have to bear a social responsibility and take proper measures, as this accident has significantly impacted the environment and people’s life in Mauritius,” Mitsui OSK President Junichiro Ikeda told a news conference Friday.

Mitsui OSK plans to contribute about ¥800 million over several years to establish a Mauritius natural environment recovery fund and another ¥100 million to several local NGOs and local funds established by public agencies such as the Mauritius government and the United Nations.

It will send its employees to Mauritius to replace some of the 13 staff who have already been sent.

In addition, the shipping company plans to provide further support to local fishing and tourism industries, though details will be worked out later.

The Panamanian-flagged MV Wakashio began spilling fuel oil on Aug. 6, prompting the Mauritian government to announce an environmental emergency.

Media reports this week said initial investigation results by Panamanian authorities questioned the level of seamanship onboard the Wakashio.

The investigation has confirmed earlier reports that the crew were having a birthday party when the accident occurred and that the Wakashio had diverted from its approved navigation plan, the reports said. Reuters has not been able to confirm the latest reports but earlier reported the birthday party.

The captain and another member of the crew have been arrested by Mauritius police. The crew were supplied by maritime services company Anglo-Eastern Group, and the Hong Kong-based company has not responded to several requests for comment since Thursday.

“We have recognized a media report about the investigation by Panama’s authority, but we would like to wait for the results of the inquiry by the Mauritius government,” the vessel’s owner Nagashiki Shipping said through its public relations company, MTI Network.

The MV Wakashio carried 4,000 tons of fuel that began seeping into the island nation’s pristine, coral-filled waters.

After the boat split in two, the larger piece was towed out to sea and sunk, but the smaller section remains stranded on the reef.

More than 1,000 tons of oil is believed to have leaked from the ship, with the rest siphoned out before it spilled.

The oil has affected mangrove areas that are complicated to clean.

Scientists say that the full impact of the spill is still unfolding but that the damage could affect Mauritius and its tourism-dependent economy for decades.

The wildlife at risk include the seagrasses blanketing sand in the shallow waters, clownfish living in coral reefs, mangroves systems, and the critically endangered Pink Pigeon, endemic to the island.

Both the operator and Nagashiki Shipping have apologized for the spill. Nagashiki last month pledged to “sincerely” respond to requests for compensation.

It was not immediately clear if the funds promised by Mitsui would satisfy demands from the Mauritius government for compensation from the companies for “all losses and damages” caused by the spill and clean-up costs.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said last week the country would continue supporting recovery efforts.

The accident is still under investigation by Mauritian authorities.

Kyodo News said last month the ship’s crew had steered it close to shore because they wanted to find a mobile signal so they could contact family and ask about the coronavirus situation at home.

It cited an unnamed judicial source, who also said an alcohol-fueled birthday party had been held on board before the accident, though it was not clear if on-duty crew participated.

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