Thousands of volunteers in Mauritius on Sunday attempt to contain a disastrous oil spill that is flooding the pristine sea and beaches.
The bulk carrier MV Wakashio has leaked fuel into a protected marine park of pristine coral reefs, mangrove forests and endangered species, prompting the government to declare an unprecedented environmental emergency.
Attempts to stabilize the affected ship, which ran aground on July 25 but only leaked oil and pumped 4,000 tons of fuel from its hold this week, have failed, and local authorities fear the rough seas could further destroy the tanker .
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the forces had managed to suppress the leak for the time being, but were prepared for the worst. The cracks have grown. The situation is even worse, ”he told reporters late Sunday.
"There is still a risk of the boat breaking in half."
Japan said Sunday it would send a six-person team of experts to assist and join France, which dispatched a naval ship and military aircraft from nearby Reunion Island after Mauritius issued a call for international aid.
This August 6, 2020 aerial photo shows a large piece of leaked oil and the ship MV Wakashio, owned by a Japanese company but under the Panamanian flag, that ran aground near the Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of southeast Mauritius
A cleaning crew working on an oil spill site after the bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef in Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius on August 8, 2020
Volunteers line the beaches, many smeared head to toe in black mud, in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide
Thick debris has entered pristine marine habitats and white sandy beaches, causing irreparable damage, according to experts
The French Ministry of Defense leaked this photo showing oil leaking from the carrier ship. The government is under increasing pressure to explain why more was not done when the ship first ran aground
The oil tanker was sailing from China to Brazil when it encountered coral reefs near Pointe d & # 39; Esny, an ecological gem surrounded by idyllic beaches, colorful reefs and sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife
Thousands of volunteers, many of them smeared from head to toe in black mud, gather along the coast and line up miles of improvised floating straw barriers to hold back the oily tide.
Mitsui OSK Lines, which operates the ship of another Japanese company, announced on Sunday that 1,000 tons of heating oil had leaked so far.
"We are terribly sorry," the shipping company's vice president Akihiko Ono told reporters in Tokyo, promising to "make every effort to resolve the case."
But conservationists say the damage could already be done.
Aerial photos show the enormous extent of the catastrophe: huge, azure seas around the maroon cargo ship are colored jet black, and the region's legendary lagoons and bays are cloudy.
Around 1,000 tons of oil have already been spilled in the Indian Ocean, prompting the Mauritius government to declare an unprecedented environmental emergency
Volunteers clean up oil that has washed up on the beach as they try to contain the oil spill. Concerned residents are building floating straw barriers to contain and contain the oil
People who shoveled spilled oil. The Environment and Fisheries Ministers have been asked to resign and the volunteers have ignored orders to leave the clean-up to the local authorities
A French military transport aircraft carrying pollution control equipment after landing on the island in the Indian Ocean on Sunday
Thick debris has inundated pristine marine habitats and white sandy beaches, causing irreparable damage to the fragile coastal ecosystem on which Mauritius and its economy depend, experts say.
Pressure is mounting on the government to explain why no more has been done in the two weeks since the bulker ran aground.
The opposition has called for the resignation of the Environment and Fisheries Ministers, while the volunteers have ignored an official order to leave the cleanup to local authorities and put on rubber gloves to sift through the mud.
“People come together in their thousands. Nobody listens to the government anymore, ”said Ashok Subron, an environmental activist in Mahebourg, one of the hardest hit areas.
“People have realized that they have to take matters into their own hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora. & # 39;
Aerial photographs show the enormous extent of the disaster as black oil continues to leak from the grounded ship into the ocean, coloring the azure seas jet black
The oil spill is drifting northwest around the island of Ile aux Aigrettes and to Mahebourg as frustration mounts over why no more was done to prevent the ecological disaster
Police said Sunday they would be executing a search warrant issued by a Mauritian court to board the Wakashio and confiscate items of interest, including the ship's log book and notice from the ship as part of the investigation into the accident.
The ship's captain, a 58-year-old Indian, will accompany the officers in their search, the police said. Twenty crew members who were safely evacuated from the Japanese-owned but Panamanian flag ship when it ran aground are under surveillance.
Prime Minister Jugnauth called a crisis meeting later Sunday after expressing concern that the forecast bad weather could further complicate efforts to contain the spill and cause more structural damage to the hull.
Conservationists fear that the region's fabled lagoons and bays could be damaged as pictures show black oil washing up on the coast
A helicopter hovers over the ship. MV Wakashio belongs to a Japanese company that operates under the Panamanian flag
Ecologists fear that if the ship continues to break, it could deal a potentially fatal blow to the island nation's coastline.
The Wakashio struck a reef in Pointe d & # 39; Esny, an ecological gem that is fringed by idyllic beaches, colorful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife, and unique RAMSAR-listed wetlands.
Police boarded Japanese-owned but Panamanian flag Wakashio on Sunday and confiscated the ship's logbook and black box as part of the investigation into the disaster.
The slick has already started to drift further up the coast, propelled by strong winds and currents.
“I think it's too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation is out of control, ”Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, oceanographer and environmental engineer, told AFP.
"We are talking about a major disaster that is progressing and getting more complicated by the hour."
Mauritius and its 1.3 million inhabitants are crucially dependent on the sea for ecotourism and have built a reputation as a success story in conservation and as a world-class travel destination for nature lovers.
This aerial photo, taken on Aug. 9, 2020, shows the location of the containment of the leaked oil from the MV Wakashio ship, owned by a Japanese company that flies the Panamanian flag and ran aground near the Blue Bay Marine Park off the south coast. East Mauritius
An aerial photo shows the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier flying the Panama flag, which is leaking oil after it ran aground on a coral reef off the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25
The spill is a double blow to tour operators who were hoping foreign tourists could return to Mauritius soon. The Indian Ocean nation has no active cases of coronavirus and had declared cautious victory after a long stretch with no new infections.
But it also depends on its natural premium for food and income. Sailors in Mahebourg, where the once pristine seas have turned sickly brown, worry about the future.
“Fishing is our only activity. We don't know how to feed our families, ”a fisherman who only mentioned his name as Michael told AFP.