Wales is a nation that is looking to take more responsibility over the environment.

I would say that the Welsh environment is core to Welsh culture, heritage and life.

Our seas in particular are unparalleled natural sanctuaries. We need to ensure that we have a government that plans for all emergencies including heavy marine pollution incidents.

I'm in Mauritius at the moment visiting family and making the most of the summer weather by going swimming in the sea. I was actually close to one of the main areas affected by the Wakashio vessel.

Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on July 25, 2020 around Pointe D'Esny, but did not immediately begin leaking oil.

Oil leaks began on August 6, by which time Mauritian authorities were trying to control the spill and minimize its effects.

They isolated environmentally sensitive areas of the coast while waiting for help from foreign countries to pump out an estimated 3,890 tons of very low sulphur-fuel oil.

By August 10, about 1,000 metric tons of fuel had leaked out, with about 2,500 to 3,000 metric tons of oil still on board the vessel. A state of emergency was declared and Mauritius appealed for international help.

The National Wales: Tourism in Mauritius was impacted by the Wakashio vessel spillTourism in Mauritius was impacted by the Wakashio vessel spill

About ten days later, the boat split with more oil leaking out. While it is said a spill three times the size of this was averted due to the authorities pumping oil off the boat, a uniquely biodiversity-rich marine ecosystem has been heavily polluted.

Volunteers were desperate to save their environment, collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers against the oil.

Others have made their own tubes with tights and hair to add to the effort, and some have been cleaning up the island's beaches.

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The impact this had on Mauritius during the difficult time of the start of the Covid pandemic cannot be understated. The economy dipped, fishermen and tourism workers struggled and people were frustrated at their government.

Now over a year on, the crew have been prosecuted but that will not save the environment that was destroyed over naval neglect.

Here in Wales we had a similar incident. On February 15, 1996, the Sea Empress struck rocks entering the Milford Haven waterway and released 72,000 tonnes of a light crude oil over seven days, contaminating 200km of coastline.

It became the UK’s third largest oil spill and the largest in Wales.

The National Wales: Oil gushes from ruptured tanks of the Sea Empress Picture: Huw Evans AgencyOil gushes from ruptured tanks of the Sea Empress Picture: Huw Evans Agency

As with the Wakashio disaster, this one also occurred in a marine reserve. The economic and environmental impact was huge. The cost of the clean-up operation was estimated to be £60m.

When the effects to the economy and environment are taken into account, the final cost is estimated to have been twice that, at £120m.

Welsh Ministers got responsibility for the licensing of onshore petroleum extraction in October 2018.

Shortly after, they announced their policy ‘To not undertake any new petroleum licensing in Wales, or support applications for hydraulic fracturing petroleum licence consents.’

Despite the policy, Natural Resources Wales has a statutory duty to carry out its regulatory role thus having a role in oil leakages.

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The current Labour-Plaid administration looks out for our environment when it suits them, on their terms and often in name only.

The National Wales: An oil clean up worker finds a bird on Angle beach with the Sea Empress in the background Picture: Huw Evans AgencyAn oil clean up worker finds a bird on Angle beach with the Sea Empress in the background Picture: Huw Evans Agency

There is a National Contingency Plan at a UK level but there should be one at a Welsh level.

Equally important, there is a UK National Standard for Marine Oil Spill Response Organisations but there should be one at a Welsh level as well.

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Wales must be ready for any disaster despite the devolution settlement.

In this case, this sort of planning could push the door open to extending the devolution settlement to this policy area.

A natural disaster such as this could be mitigated best in a federal settlement. The sea borders are superfluous but an efficient Welsh response could see an immediate reaction with Welsh organisations such as the local port authority and Natural Resources Wales while shared UK wide organisations would help as well.

Oil knows no borders or political settlement and we have a duty to optimize our UK to deal with such trauma on our environment. Yet another topic that the Labour-Plaid administration is happy to ignore.

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