Mauritius Declares Environmental Emergency After Massive Oil Spill From Shipwreck
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is facing an environmental crisis after a ship ran aground and started to leak oil into the sea.
The Wakashio bulk carrier ship started to break up in rough seas after it was grounded at Pointe d’Esny on July 25 while carrying 3,894 tons of low-sulfur fuel oil, 207 tons of diesel and 90 tons of lubricant oil from China to Brazil. The country’s prime minister has now declared the incident a ‘state of environmental emergency’.
Crew members were safely evacuated following the incident, but ministers on the island said all attempts to stabilise the ship had failed because of rough seas. Efforts to pump out the oil have also failed, and as a result the ship continues to leak oil into the water.
New satellite images have revealed the oil slick spreading through the waters off the island’s coast, approaching areas the government call ‘very sensitive,’ The Guardian reports. Prime minister Pravind Jugnauth is now appealing to France for aid, as the incident ‘represents a danger’ for the country, which is heavily reliant on tourism that has already been severely impacted by the current pandemic.
Ecologists fear the ship will break up completely, leading to an even greater leak and inflicting potentially catastrophic damage to the country’s coastal waters and marine wildlife.
A statement released by the environment ministry said:
The ministry has been informed… that there is a breach in the vessel MV Wakashio and there is a leakage of oil.
The public in general, including boat operators and fishers, are requested not to venture on the beach and in the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg.
Mauritius is home to some of the finest coral reefs in the world, and the island depends on its beautiful seas for both food and tourism. The ministry said anti-pollution systems had been sent out and that the government was asking the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion for assistance in dealing with the issue, The Guardian reports.
Environment Minister Kavy Ramano said the island was in an ‘environmental crisis situation’, while Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo commented: ‘This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem.’
The ship was Panamanian-flagged, but belongs to Japanese company Nagashiki Shipping. The company said it was monitoring the situation, adding that salvage efforts were on hold due to poor sea conditions. Around 400 sea booms have been sent out in order to contain the oil spill.
In a statement, Nagashiki Shipping said:
Due to bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tanker has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea.
Nagashiki Shipping takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and with partner agencies and contractors will make every effort to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution.
The cause of the incident will be fully investigated and the owner and manager will continue to work closely with the authorities to determine cause.
Greenpeace Africa said the oil spill ‘is likely one of the most terrible ecological crises ever seen on the small island country’.
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