JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The Prime Minister of Mauritius has said the government is calling on France to help it cope with an environmental brewing disaster after a Japanese ship stranded nearly two weeks ago off the coast of the Indian Ocean island nation began to spill oil.
The spill “represents a danger for Mauritius,” Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said on Friday in a statement posted on social media. “Our country has neither the skills nor the expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I asked for help from France and President Emmanuel Macron.
Jugnauth shared a photo of the ship, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously as a dark slick spread through the turquoise waters from cracks that appeared in the hull.
The bad weather made it impossible to act, and “I’m worried about what might happen on Sunday when the weather deteriorates,” he said.
The ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tonnes of fuel, the country’s director of navigation, Alain Donat, said on Thursday. Some 400 sea barriers were deployed in an attempt to contain the spill.
A video posted online showed oily waters lapping the shore as people whispered and watched the ship in the distance. Online vessel tracks showed the Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier was en route from China to Brazil.
The spill is another big blow to the island nation of around 1.3 million people which is heavily dependent on tourism and which had previously been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that France is Mauritius’ “leading foreign investor” and one of its biggest trading partners. The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius.
“We are in a situation of environmental crisis”, declared the Minister of the Environment of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, describing the marine park of Blue Bay and other areas near the leaking ship as “very sensitive”.
After the hull cracks were detected, a rescue team working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters.
Government statements this week said the ship ran aground on July 25 and the National Coast Guard had not received any distress calls. The owners of the vessel were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd.
A police investigation has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, according to a government statement.
Tons of diesel and oil are now leaking into the water, Happy Khambule, climate and energy manager for environmental group Greenpeace Africa, said in a statement.
“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg risk drowning in a sea of pollution, with disastrous consequences for the economy, food security and health of Mauritius”, declared Khambule.