Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tonnes of fuel.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development on Friday as satellite images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive”.

Mauritius said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tonnes of fuel and cracks have appeared in its hull.

Jugnauth said his government appealed 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,” he said. Bad weather 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. “Sea rough beyond the reefs with swells. Ventures in the open seas are not advised,” according to the Mauritius Meteorological Services.

An aerial view of oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. PHOTO: AP

Videos posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore, and a man running a stick across the water’s surface and lifting it, dripping black goo.

The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbour to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry said France is Mauritius’ “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.

“When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted yesterday. “France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth.”

A separate French statement from Reunion said a military transport aircraft would carry pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with additional material would set sail for the island nation.

“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” Mauritius Environment Minister Kavy Ramano said.

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 were deployed in an effort to contain the spill.