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Investors respond to BP’s reported links to Mauritius oil spill

The UK supermajor is accused of stalling investigations into the oil spill, but describes the claims as ‘baseless’

BlackRock and Aviva are among a group of investors who have indicated that they will probe BP’s role in the 2020 oil spill off the coast of Mauritius, after allegations emerged that BP was stonewalling agency investigations into the disaster.

BP’s links to the disaster came to light after reporting by Forbes found that BP had supplied the experimental low-sulphur shipping fuel that ended up flooding into the Indian sea after a Japanese bulk carrier ran aground on coral reefs last year.

The report further alleged that BP had not responded to repeated requests by maritime authorities and scientists to provide a sample of the fuel – a mixture of jet and ship fuel, which NGOs have described as a ‘super pollutant’ – making it difficult to gauge the damage sustained by the local ecosystem.

BP has now confirmed that it supplied the fuel oil, describing the rest of Forbes’ reporting as “baseless”. According to BP, it has already provided results of third-party analysis of the oil used by the carrier to the authorities and has not received any follow-up requests.

The disaster is estimated to have caused the death of nearly 100 whales and dolphins, and exposed tens of thousands of Mauritians to carcinogenic compounds. Experts have described the spill as particularly damaging due its close proximity to a number of marine ecosystems unique to the region and a nature reserve of international importance.

So far, BlackRock, Aviva, Newton Investment Management and Norway’s largest pension fund KLP have confirmed to RI that they will seek to engage BP directly over the allegations made in the report. The Principles for Responsible Investment has also noted the report, saying that it was “critically important for investors to engage companies on how they manage and adhere to safety standards and the environmental and social risks their activities pose”.

In addition, Follow This – a shareholder group that has been instrumental in pushing for climate action among oil companies – said “transparency about other downsides of fossil fuels, such as this kind of disaster, could actually help BP to see the imperative to move away from fossil fuels towards renewables, that do not cause toxic spills”.

KLP has indicated that it will also engage with Tokyo-listed shipping giant Mitsui OSK Lines, the operator of the bulk carrier, after the company was criticised for failing to support local health and environmental assessments, and accused of focusing instead on “superficial gestures” such as school origami lessons and handing out free t-shirts. 

The allegations come at a sensitive time for BP, which is attempting to reinvent itself as an environmental leader within the energy sector. The company is one of the first oil majors to announce a net zero carbon emissions target and is expected to outline detailed plans on how the target will be reached early this year.

More broadly, the disaster has renewed questions about the toxicity and environmental impact of low-sulphur blended fuels – currently in use by 70% of all ships globally. Over the past year, a coalition of environmental NGOs have petitioned maritime authorities to ban the fuel over evidence it produces more soot – a significant contributor to global warming – compared to other alternatives.