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PHOTOS: Mauritius Declares Emergency as Ship Spills Fuel Into Pristine Waters

PortandTerminal.com, August 8, 2020

Johannesburg, South Africa — The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a Japanese-owned bulk carrier that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tons of fuel into its pristine waters.

Satellite image of cargo ship leaking oil
Satellite images from Friday show a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive.”

The bulk carrier MV Wakashio, owned by the Nagashiki Shipping Company, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and cracks have appeared in its hull.

Bulk carrier MV Wakashio shown leaking fuel into Mauritius' pristine waters.
Bulk carrier MV Wakashio shown leaking fuel into Mauritius’ pristine waters.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said his government had appealed to France for help, saying the spill “represents a danger” for the country of some 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

France was sending specialist teams and equipment to help Mauritius deal with the spill, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

“We will never be able to recover from this damage. But what we can do is try to mitigate as much as we can.”

“Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships,” he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.”

Bulk carrier MV Wakashio
Bulk carrier MV Wakashio

Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously. “Sea rough beyond the reefs with swells.

Wildlife workers and volunteers frantically ferried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants from an island near the spill, Ile aux Aigrettes, to the mainland as fears grew that worsening weather on Sunday could tear the Japanese-owned ship apart along its cracked hull.

The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius’s “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.

Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, is known for its pristine beaches, lagoons and reefs. Its 1.3 million people rely heavily upon tourism for their livelihoods. Measuring just 788 sq miles in size, the island is only about half the size of Rhode Island in the United States

“When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Saturday. “France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth.”

A separate French statement from Reunion said a military transport aircraft would carry pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with additional material would set sail for the island nation.

“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, has said.

After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters Thursday. Some 400 sea booms were deployed in an effort to contain the spill.

Residents of Mauritius turned out in mass to volunteer to build sea booms to contain the oil spill.
Residents of Mauritius turned out in mass to volunteer to build sea booms to contain the oil spill.
Sea booms. Oil spill.
Sea booms have been deployed in an effort to contain the spill

Government statements said the ship ran aground July 25 and the National Coast Guard received no distress call. The ship’s owners were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd.

A police inquiry has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, one statement said. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.

A statement by Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd. said that “due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea.”

A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan but equipment on hand was “adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tonnes.” That’s 400 times less than oil than the bulk carrier leaking fuel of its coast is carrying.

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