The ship MV Wakashio, on August 8, 2020, is stranded, threatens to dump all its oil cargo on the coast of Mauritius. - AFP
An ecological disaster threatens the rich biodiversity of Mauritius. A boat stranded for several days off the island now threatens to break, and to spill in these protected maritime areas the 4,000 tons of oil on board.
Sunday evening, the small nation of the Indian Ocean was preparing for the worst. The intervention teams temporarily succeeded in blocking the oil spill which had been spilling for several days from the hold of the boat. But the risk of the bulk carrier simply breaking in two was growing. “The cracks have widened. The situation is even worse, ”Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told reporters.
1,000 tonnes of fuel already spilled
The Wakashio, owned by a Japanese company but flying the Panamanian flag, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of heavy oil and 200 tonnes of diesel when it struck a reef at Pointe d'Esny on July 25. Located on the southeastern coast of the island, this reef is an ecological gem known for its internationally listed conservation sites, turquoise waters and protected wetlands.
On Thursday, Mauritian authorities announced that oil was leaking from the cracked hull of the bulk carrier. More than 1,000 of the 4,000 tonnes of fuel carried by the Wakashio have already spilled at sea, said Akihiko Ono, vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, the company that operated the ship.
The situation could get "out of control"
On Sunday, thousands of people flocked to the shores to try to limit as best they could the oil spill which threatens the island. "People have understood that they have to take matters into their own hands to protect the flora and fauna," Ashok Subron, an environmental activist who arrived from the neighboring city of Mahebourg, told AFP.
The volunteers tried to weave hemp and fabric floating dams to contain the fuel slick. Others, wearing masks and rubber gloves, were trying to pick up the products that had escaped from the ship in buckets. Until now, the rough waters have made operations difficult to limit oil leaks.
According to satellite images, the slick has already started to drift towards the coast, fanned by strong winds and currents. “I think it's already too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation will get out of hand, ”Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer and environmental engineer, told AFP.
Mauritius has the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and is a sanctuary for rare and endemic fauna. Its 1.3 million people depend on its waters for food and economy. “Fishing is our only activity. We do not know how we will be able to feed our families, ”said a fisherman interviewed by AFP.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who declared an “environmental state of emergency”, called a crisis meeting of the authorities concerned on Sunday and thanked France for its help. On Saturday, a French navy ship and a plane with experts on board left for Mauritius from Reunion. Japan has announced for its part the dispatch of a team of six experts to work alongside French and local aid.
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