FLOREAL, Mauritius – As citizen-led rescue efforts continued, a ship that ran aground off Mauritius shattered in two on Saturday, raising fears that more oil could spill near the coast of the island of the Indian Ocean.
The small nation’s government said in a statement posted on Facebook that it had “predicted” that Japanese-owned MV Wakashio would go its separate ways, adding that it was taking “precautionary measures” to contain further spills.
The ship was heading for Brazil when it ran aground on the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25. It was carrying around 4,000 tonnes of oil, part of which seeped into the country’s turquoise waters, threatening to ruin its coral reefs, protected lagoons. and the coastline – vital for the country’s main industry, tourism.
Along with the official clean-up efforts, residents have taken matters into their own hands.
As the beats exploded, a master of ceremonies encouraged dozens of volunteers to work around the clock on the Mahebourg waterfront where they were creating makeshift “dams” to combat the spill.
“It is a popular factory, a zone of mobilization for Mauritians,” David Sauvage, an environmental activist, told NBC News on Friday.
Desperate to save what they can, people have come from all over the island to take part in the operation.
They create the dams by stuffing a netting-like fabric with dried cane leaves and tie up empty bottles to keep them afloat.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and the stories that matter, delivered on weekday mornings.
Sewn together, they create a temporary floating barrier designed to contain the oil spill and reduce the possibility of it polluting the shore.
“The waterfront is a space for collaborative learning,” said Ameerah Arjanee, a volunteer who took time off from work at a non-governmental organization to help with the Boom Creation initiative.
Mauritians of all ages, ethnicities and social classes are collaborating in this effort, she said, adding that several food stations had been set up. A barber would cut and collect the hair to place it in the dams to absorb the oil, she said. People from across the country also donated their locks to the cause.
Musicians come and play for free at night, she says.
Hundreds more donned gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment and dove neck deep in the oil, cleaning up the mangroves and the ocean as best they could.
Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are also at risk, the government warned earlier this week.
Shaama Sandooyea, graduate in marine environmental sciences, put on personal protective equipment to clean the oil bank of Bambous Virieux, along with other volunteers.
“I worked an hour at a time so I wouldn’t get sick. But I started to develop headaches, cough, nausea. Others have spent hours inhaling the volatile components of heavy oil. The authorities did not help us, ”she said.
Noxious fumes also forced schools to close on the island, which emerged from restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic two months ago relatively unscathed, with only 344 total cases and 10 deaths, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center by Johns Hopkins.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news
The Mauritian government said on Thursday that while most of the oil remaining in the MV Wakashio had been pumped out, around 166 tonnes of fuel was still inside the bulk carrier and authorities were working to remove it. It is not known how many have been kidnapped since then.
Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Saturday that Tokyo planned to send a team of ministry officials and other specialists to assess the damage caused by the oil spill. The vessel is owned by Nagashiki Shipping of Japan and is chartered by Mitsui OSK Lines.
Mauritius’ environment ministry also said in a statement on Saturday that experts were in place to deal with the situation and called for stopping production from the dams.
But some were skeptical of the claim and vowed to continue their cleanup efforts.
“We are working in tune with the authorities and monitoring the situation,” the opposition party Rezistans ek Alternativ said in a statement. “They are on the front line. But when the front line fails, we’re here to help.
Meanwhile, on the waterfront, Sauvage said he would continue to develop makeshift devices to handle the spill.
“It’s all about open knowledge, live prototypes,” he said.