Mauritius in Urgent Race To Contain Japanese Tanker Oil Spill

Mauritius declares emergency as oil tanker leaks thousands of tonnes of fuel into Indian Ocean. image: Twitter

Thousands of tons of oil has already escaped into the Indian Ocean after a Japanese ship ran aground off the island’s southeast coast.

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Groups students, environmental activists and residents of Mauritius were working around the clock yesterday, trying to reduce the damage to the Indian Ocean island from an oil spill after a Japanese ship ran aground on a coral reef.

         “We’ve never seen anything like this in Mauritius,” said one local resident. image: Twitter

Much of the Japanese ship’s cargo of 4,000 tons has already escaped into the sea, officials said. Workers were seeking to stop more oil from leaking, but with high winds and rough seas on Sunday there were reports of new cracks appearing in the ship’s hull.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help. He said the spill “represents a danger” for the country of 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been hurt by travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A French military transport aircraft was carrying pollution control equipment to Mauritius, and a navy vessel with additional material planned to sail from the nearby French island of Reunion. Residents and environmentalists alike asked why authorities didn’t act more quickly after the ship, the MV Wakashio, ran aground on a coral reef on July 25.

“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.”

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 vessel. image: Twitter

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, he said.

The operator of the Japanese bulk carrier apologised on Sunday.

Japan is sending a six-person disaster relief team, on the request of the Mauritius government, to help with removing the spilt oil, according to a statement by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on Sunday. “We apologise profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines said at a news conference in Tokyo.

He added that the company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue”.



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