Mauritius oil leak an ecological disaster


Mauritius, the beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, has declared an environmental emergency and appealed for international help after a Japanese-owned ship struck a reef and began spewing 4,000 tonnes of fuel into a protected marine park boasting unspoiled coral reefs, mangrove forests and endangered species.

Residents of Mauritius stuffed fabric sacks with sugar cane leaves to create makeshift oil spill barriers with endangered wildlife in further peril.

Wildlife workers and volunteers 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 could tear the ship apart along its cracked hull.

France said it was sending help from its nearby Reunion island. Satellite images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near wetlands that the government called “very sensitive”.

“When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

Reunion Island said a military transport aircraft was carrying pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with additional material would set sail for the island.

The bulk carrier MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25. Residents and environmentalists alike wondered why authorities didn’t act more quickly.

“That’s the big question,” Jean Hugues Gardenne with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation told The Associated Press. “Why that ship has been sitting for long on that coral reef and nothing being done.”

This is the country’s first oil spill, he said, adding that perhaps no one expected the ship to break apart. For days, residents peered out at the precariously tilted ship as a salvage team arrived and began to work, but ocean waves kept battering the ship.

“They just hit and hit and hit,” Gardenne said.

Cracks in the hull were detected a few days ago and the salvage team was quickly evacuated. Some 400 sea booms were deployed to contain the spill, but they were not enough.

Environmental group Greenpeace said the spill was to likely to be one of the most terrible ecological crises that Mauritius has ever seen.

“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health,” said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager. “Greenpeace Africa stands with affected Mauritian coastal communities and calls on the UN (United Nations) and all governments to support Mauritius’ cleaning efforts.”

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the spill “represents a danger” for the country of 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted travel worldwide.

“Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to re-float stranded ships,” he said.

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