PORT LOUIS • The Prime Minister of Mauritius has declared a state of environmental emergency and appealed to France for urgent assistance as oil from a grounded cargo ship spilled unabated into the island nation’s protected waters.
Rough seas have hampered efforts to stop fuel leaking from the bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which ran aground two weeks ago, and is polluting pristine waters in an ecologically critical marine area off the south-east coast.
“A state of environmental emergency has been declared,” Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth posted on his Twitter account late Friday.
The tanker, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of fuel when it struck a reef at Pointe d’Esny, an internationally listed conservation site near the turquoise waters of the Blue Bay marine park.
The Environment Ministry announced last week that oil had begun seeping from the hull, as volunteers rushed to the coast to prepare for the worst. Soon, oil slicked the coral reefs, lagoons and white-sand shores upon which Mauritius has built its reputation as a green tourism destination. Aerial images showed the scale of the damage, with huge stretches of azure sea stained inky black by the spill.
A spokesman for Mitsui O.S.K Lines, which operates the vessel owned by another Japanese company, said fuel was being airlifted by helicopter from the stricken bulker to shore, but poor weather was complicating matters.
“We tried to place a containment boom near the ship, but it’s not working well due to high waves,” he told Agence France-Presse in Tokyo yesterday. Some of the fuel was in separate tanks and may not be at risk of leaking, he added.
Mr Jugnauth, after touring the disaster site, expressed fears the crisis could worsen with bad weather forecast over the weekend, and made an urgent appeal for help.
“We don’t know what will happen to the boat,” he said. He added that “the sinking of the Wakashio represents a danger for Mauritius. Our country does not have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have requested the help of France” and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a statement yesterday, the French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from the nearby French Indian Ocean island of Reunion would make two rotations over the area with pollution-control equipment.