The ecological disaster is likely to worsen. More than two weeks after being stranded in the crystal-clear waters of Mauritius, the ship Wakashio, with 4,000 tonnes of oil on board, threatens to break up this Sunday. The population is worried about an even more serious impact than expected in this protected maritime area.
On this Sunday evening, the small nation of the Indian Ocean is indeed preparing for the worst. The intervention teams temporarily succeeded in blocking the oil spill which had been spilling for several days from the hold of the cargo ship.
VIDEO: Oil spill on Mauritius: "We make buoys with the hair and feathers of guinea fowl"
But the risk of the bulk carrier simply breaking in two is now undeniable. “The cracks have widened. The situation is even worse, ”Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told reporters. For Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer and environmental engineer: “it's already too late”. According to the specialist, "if the ship breaks in two, the situation will get out of hand."
1000 tonnes of fuel spilled at sea
The Wakashio, owned by a Japanese company but flying the Panamanian flag, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of heavy oil and 200 tonnes of diesel when it struck a reef at Pointe d'Esny on July 25.
Located on the southeastern coast of the island, this reef is an ecological gem known for its internationally listed conservation sites, turquoise waters and protected wetlands.
Last Thursday, the Mauritian authorities announced that oil was leaking from the cracked hull of the bulk carrier. More than 1,000 of the 4,000 tonnes of fuel carried by the Wakashio have already spilled at sea, said Akihiko Ono, vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, the company that operated the ship.
Floating booms and hair buoys
Thousands of people flocked to the shores this Sunday to try to limit as best they could the oil spill which threatens the island. "People understood that they had to take matters into their own hands to protect the flora and fauna," said Ashok Subron, an environmental activist who arrived from the neighboring city of Mahebourg. According to satellite images, the slick has already started to drift towards the coast, fanned by strong winds and currents.
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The volunteers tried to weave hemp and fabric floating dams to contain the fuel slick. Others, wearing masks and rubber gloves, were trying to pick up the products that had escaped from the ship in buckets.
"State of environmental emergency"
Mauritius has the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and is a sanctuary for rare and endemic fauna. Its 1.3 million people depend on its waters for food and economy. “Fishing is our only activity. We don't know how we will be able to feed our families, ”said one fisherman.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who declared an “environmental state of emergency”, called a crisis meeting of the authorities concerned on Sunday and thanked France for its help. On Saturday, a French navy ship and a plane with experts on board left for Mauritius from Reunion. For its part, Japan has announced the dispatch of a team of six experts to work alongside French and local aid.
When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act. France is there. Alongside the Mauritian people. You can count on our support dear @PKJugnauth. We are now deploying teams and equipment from Reunion Island. https://t.co/uxoNhAQWfS- Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 8, 2020
The Mauritian police had planned to approach the Wakashio on Sunday, in order to seize the navigation reports and the recordings of the communications. The 20 members of the bulk carrier's crew had been evacuated unharmed after its accident at the end of July.