The carrier, belonging to a Japanese company, ran aground on July 25 and was carrying 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel.
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tons of fuel.
"We are in an environmental crisis situation," Environment Minister Kavy Ramano told a press conference, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other areas near the leaking ship “very sensitive.”
"This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem," said Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo.
The ministers said that all attempts to stabilise the ship had failed because of rough seas, and efforts to pump out the oil had also failed.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development as satellite images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive.”
Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and cracks have appeared in its hull.
Video posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore as people murmured and peered at the ship in the distance.
Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.
Absolutely shattered by the ecological crisis faced by Mauritius. These pictures of the oil spill, wrecking our most beautiful lagoons, were taken by my friend Eric Villars on his flight to Rodrigues this morning. #mauritius #oilspill #wakashio #bluebay #coralreefs #marinepark pic.twitter.com/DRTLthCZw1— Priya Hein (@PriyaHein) August 7, 2020
Appeal to France
The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbour to Mauritius, and France's Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius's “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.
Jugnauth earlier in the day said his government was appealing to France for help, saying the spill “represents a danger" for the country of some 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have appealed for help from France and President Emmanuel Macron," he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates."
Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously.
An ecological disaster ... things got worse yesterday in Blue Bay on the south coast of Mauritius pic.twitter.com/cIESdZoOz5— Mauritius Island (@MauritiusGuide) August 7, 2020
Efforts to contain the spill
After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters on Thursday.
Some 400 sea booms have been deployed in an effort to contain the spill.
Government statements this week said the ship ran aground July 25 and the National Coast Guard received no distress call. The ship's owners were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd.
A police inquiry has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, a government statement said.
Tons of diesel and oil are now leaking into the water, environmental group Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy manager Happy Khambule said in a statement.
“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,” Khambule said.
A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan but the equipment on hand was “adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tonnes.”
In case of major spills, it said, assistance could be obtained from other Indian Ocean countries or from international oil spill response organisations.