Researchers from the University of Strathclyde are providing crucial data modelling services to monitor and track a huge oil spill off the coast of Mauritius.
In July, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, declared a state of emergency after the MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef. The cargo ship is believed to have been carrying around 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil.
While authorities initially scrambled to remove the oil from the vessel, Mauritian authorities confirmed at the weekend that the Japanese-owned ship had split in two.
Mechanical Engineer Dr Kamila Nieradzinska and Environmental scientist Dr Kieran Tierney from the university have been conducting oil spill modelling to forecast the direction in which the spillage could travel and areas it has impacted most.
The simulation project was initiated to help local organisations, businesses and volunteers track the spill, and the experts were called in by Dr Amar Seeam, the Academic Director for Middlesex University Mauritius.
“Dr Nieradzinska has collaborated with Dr Seeam in the past on similar projects, and when the vessel started leaking oil, he contacted us to help with oil dispersion predictions, salvaging the vessel and cleaning the oil spill,” Dr Tierney commented.
Boasting previous experience in marine contaminant modelling, the experts have created simulations on how to safely salvage the ship and have advised how ‘boom barriers’ of human hair in nylon could be used to absorb oil from the shore and clean the beaches on Mauritius.
“Sea booms containing human hair in nylon socks can absorb oil spills as human hair is biosorbent. It is an easy but powerful solution that can help specialised communities to protect the fauna and flora closer to the beach,” Dr Nieradzinska said.
Dr Tierney said modelling of the Mauritius oil spill has, so far, accurately captured the initial dispersion of leaked oil, and has been helpful to local authorities fighting to stem the spread of the disaster. The data has been used by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in Mauritius, which has been directing response efforts on the ground there.
“The team from Strathclyde have been very helpful with the continuous predictive modelling and generating scenarios as the situation unfolded,” Dr Seeam explained. “These have been quickly shared amongst Mauritius disaster groups on social media to aid the clean-up effort.”
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According to the researchers, their ‘worst-case scenario’ simulations show that the forecast current and winds would likely distribute the oil along vast stretches of the local coastlines around the Point d’Esny and Blue Bay, which is a well-known wildlife sanctuary.
The area also contains wetlands, which have been designated as a site of ‘international importance’ by the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. Data modelling shows that the island’s northern and north-westerly coastlines would also be impacted significantly by the oil spill.
Although boom barriers were predicted to play a key role in containing the oil spillage, the Strathclyde team urged that the contained oil should be immediately pumped out.
“Our research also showed that it was essential for the vessel to be stabilised and for the remainder of the diesel and fuel to be pumped out as soon as possible to avoid an even larger spill and increased pollution of the coastline,” said Dr Nieradzinska.
Prime Minister Jugnauth has since confirmed that most of the fuel has been transferred to shore by helicopter, and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping.
More than 3,000 of the 4,000 tonnes of oil from the ship’s fuel reservoirs had been pumped out, Jugnauth said, while a small amount remained onboard elsewhere.