Mauritius Declares Emergency as Stranded Ship Spills Tons of Fuel

August 8, 2020 Updated: August 8, 2020

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

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

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

Jugnauth said his government had 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 has 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.

Epoch Times Photo
In this satellite image provided by 2020 Maxar Technologies on Aug. 7, 2020, an aerial view of oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. (2020 Maxar Technologies via 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 neighbor to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius’s “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 Saturday. “France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth.”

After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters Thursday. Some 400 sea booms were deployed in an effort to contain the spill.

Government statements in recent days 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.

Epoch Times Photo
In this satellite image provided by 2020 Maxar Technologies on Aug. 7, 2020, an aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. (2020 Maxar Technologies via Reuters)

A police inquiry has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, one statement said. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.

A statement by Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd. said that “due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea.”

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.

By Cara Anna