JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The prime minister of Mauritius is appealing to France for help with an unprecedented environmental disaster after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground almost two weeks ago off the Indian Ocean island nation began spilling oil.
The spill “represents a danger for Mauritius,” Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Friday in a statement posted on social media. “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.”
Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously as a dark slick spread in the turquoise waters from cracks that have appeared in the hull.
Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates,” he said.
The ship had been carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel, the country’s shipping director, Alain Donat, told reporters Thursday. Some 400 sea booms were deployed in an effort to contain the spill.
Video posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore as people murmured and peered at the ship in the distance. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.
The spill is another blow to the island nation of some 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and already had been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius’s “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.
“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other areas near the leaking ship “very sensitive.”
After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters.
Government statements this week said the ship ran aground July 25 and the National Coast Guard received no distress call. The ship’s owners were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime 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, environmental group 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 Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health,” Khambule said.
A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan but equipment on hand was “adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tonnes.”
In case of major spills, it said, assistance could be obtained from other Indian Ocean countries or from international oil spill response organizations.