The island nation of Mauritius is facing an environmental crisis after a huge container ship ran aground and started to leak oil into an area home to some of the finest coral reefs in the world.
Efforts to pump oil out of the ship have failed, and now there are fears that the carrier could start to break up, leading to an even greater leak and causing catastrophic damage on the island’s pristine coastline.
“We are in an environmental crisis situation,” said the environment minister, Kavy Ramano,
The carrier MV Wakashio, which belongs to a Japanese company and flew a Panamanian-flagged, was en route from China to Brazil when it ran aground near Pointe d’Esny on the island’s southeastern coast on 25 July.
The vessel’s crew have been evacuated safely and the container was not carrying a cargo load when wrecked. However, the 1,000ft vessel was carrying 90 tonnes of lubricant oil, 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel, according to local media outlets.
Now the oil is spreading out of the ship rapidly, according to Sunil Dowarkasing, Greengate Consulting, a Mauritian environmental consultancy, who was on the beach in sight of wreck.
“It’s really very bad because now despite all the measures, the oil has already reached the shores of Mauritius and polluted the shorelines. You can see fish dying. The situation is out of control,” Mr Dowarkasing told The Telegraph.
Mr Dowarkasing said that the wreck was near four major wildlife and maritime sanctuaries, which contained flora and fauna unique to the island. He added that there was a 100-year-old ‘brain’ coral nearby in the Blue Bay Marine Park.
“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,” Happy Khambule from Greenpeace Africa told The Telegraph in a statement.
The country of 1.2m depends on its seas for food and for tourism, boasting some of the finest coral reefs in the world.
The Mauritian government has asked the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion for assistance.
“This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem,” said fishing minister, Sudheer Maudhoo.