ENVIRONMENT – The stranded ship in the crystal clear waters of Mauritius with 4,000 tons of oil on board threatened to break down this Sunday, August 9, raising fears of an even more serious ecological disaster in this protected maritime area.
By Sunday night, the small Indian Ocean nation was preparing for the worst. The intervention teams were able to temporarily block the oil spill that had been spilling for several days from the ship’s hold.
But it increased the risk of the bulk carrier simply breaking in two. “The cracks have widened. The situation is even worse, ”Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told reporters.
The Wakashio, owned by a Japanese company but flying the Panamanian flag, was carrying 3,800 tons of heavy oil and 200 tons of diesel when it hit a reef at Pointe d’Esny on July 25.
Located on the southeast coast of the island, this reef is an ecological gem known for its internationally listed conservation sites, turquoise waters, and protected wetlands.
On Thursday, authorities in Mauritius announced that oil was leaking through 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 into the sea, said Akihiko Ono, vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, the company that operated the ship.
“The situation will be out of control”
On Sunday, thousands of people flocked to the coasts to try to limit the oil spill that threatens the island as best as possible. “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 came from the neighboring city of Mahebourg, told AFP.
The volunteers attempted to weave floating dams from hemp and cloth to contain the fuel stain. Others, wearing rubber gloves and masks, tried to collect the products that had escaped from the ship in buckets.
Until now, rough waters have made operations difficult to limit oil leaks. According to satellite images, the spot has already begun to move towards the coast, fueled by strong winds and currents.
“I think it is too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation will spiral out of control, ”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 inhabitants depend on its waters for food and the economy. “Fishing is our only activity. We don’t know how we are going to be able to feed our families ”, confided a fisherman interviewed by AFP.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who declared a “state of environmental emergency”, called a crisis meeting of the concerned authorities on Sunday and thanked France for its help.
On Saturday, a French Navy ship and a plane with experts on board departed for Mauritius from Reunion. Japan has for its part announced the dispatch of a team of six experts to work together with French and local aid.
Mauritius police had planned to approach the Wakashio on Sunday to seize navigation reports and recordings of communications. The 20 members of the bulk carrier’s crew had been evacuated unharmed after the accident in late July.
See also in The HuffPost: Mauritius’ lagoons amid an oil spill