Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

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Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a Japanese ship that ran aground off the coast a few days ago began dumping tons of fuel .Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development on Friday evening as satellite images showed a dark slick spreading through turquoise waters near environmental areas the government has called “very sensitive”.

Maurice said the vessel was carrying nearly 4,000 tonnes of fuel and cracks appeared in its hull.

Jugnauth said his government had called on France for help, saying the spill “posed a danger” to the country of about 1.3 million people which relies heavily on tourism and has been hit hard by the effects. of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our country does not have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships,” he said. The bad weather made it impossible to act, and “I’m worried about what might happen on Sunday when the weather turns bad.”

Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously. “Rough seas beyond the reefs with swells. High seas adventures are not recommended, ”according to the Mauritian meteorological services.

Videos posted online showed oily waters lapping on the shore, and a man running a stick across the surface of the water and lifting it up, dripping with black goo.

On Thursday, spectators watch the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier that ran aground near the Blue Bay Marine Park in south-eastern Mauritius on July 25. The ship was carrying 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel, according to local press. (Dev Ramkhelawon / L’Express Maurice / AFP via Getty)

The French island of Reunion is Mauritius ‘closest neighbor, and the French foreign ministry says France is Mauritius’ “leading foreign investor” and one of its biggest trading partners.

“When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday. “France is there. Alongside the Mauritian people. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth. ”

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

“We are in a situation of environmental crisis”, declared the Minister of the Environment of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano.

400 sea barriers deployed

After the cracks in the hull were detected, a rescue team working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters on Thursday. Some 400 sea barriers were deployed in an attempt to contain the spill.

Government statements in recent days indicated that 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 statement. Online vessel tracks showed the Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier was en route from China to Brazil.

A statement from Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd. said that “due to bad weather and constant blows over the past few days, the bunker tank on the starboard side of the vessel was broken and a quantity of fuel oil escaped into the sea”.

A satellite image from Friday shows the bulk carrier MV Wakashio and its oil spill after running aground off the south-eastern coast of Mauritius. (Maxar Technologies via Reuters)

He added, “Nagashiki Shipping takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and will make every effort with partner agencies and subcontractors to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution. ”

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.

According to a government environmental perspective released nearly ten years ago, Mauritius had a national oil spill contingency plan, but the equipment available was “adequate to deal with oil spills less than 10 metric tons ”.

In the event of major spills, he said, assistance could be obtained from other countries in the Indian Ocean or from international oil spill response organizations.

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