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. The prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, made the announcement late on Friday 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. 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 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 Wakashan, tilted
precariously. Video footage posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore as people peered at the ship in the distance. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been enroute from China to Brazil. 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 tradingpartners.“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of Mauritius, KavyRamano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other areas near the leaking ship “verysensitive”. 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
tocontain the spill.Government statements this week said the ship ran aground on 25 July and the National CoastGuard received no distress call. The ship’s owners were listed as the Japanese companies OkiyoMaritime 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, 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 Mahebourgare at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy,food security and health,” Khambule said.A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a nationaloil spill contingency plan but equipment on hand was
“adequate to deal with oil spills of lessthan 10 metric tones”.In case of major spills, it said, assistance could be obtained from other Indian Ocean countries orfrom international oil spill response organizations.