Cape Town (dpa) – Mauritius’ Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency on Friday as the Indian ocean island battled to contain an oil spill caused by a Japanese freighter that ran aground off the coast of a popular tourist island. The oil seeped from the freighter and photographs from the air showed the oil slick spreading though the turquoise water surrounding the island. Other images in local L’Express newspaper showed blackened beaches and dead marine life.
Several hours earlier Jugnauth tweeted: “Our country does not have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I asked for help from France,” tagging French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron’s social media pages have not yet responded.
Greenpeace said the spill from the bulk carrier would have devastating consequences.
The “MV Wakashio ran aground around July 25 and is now leaking tons of diesel and oil into the ocean,” said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaign manager.
“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.”
He said all the 20 crew members were safe.
Deborah de Chazal, executive director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, which is working with the government to address the disaster, told dpa the boat was carrying 4,000 tons of oil.
“Booms have been installed to collect the oil near the wreck and others to protect some key sites including Blue Bay Marine Park,” she said.
“Help and equipment is being brought in from abroad as Mauritius has limited equipment in the country to address the oil spill. I understand there are discussions to see if the remaining oil can be pumped from the wreck.”
The crew of the Panamanian-flagged ship are now in quarantine on the island that sits off the east African coast, local media reported.
The freighter, owned by Nagashiki Shipping in Okayama, Japan, was en route to Brazil from Singapore.
“In order to prevent an adverse environmental impact as much as possible, we have put up a fence and started recovering the oil,” a company official said.
“The cause [of the accident]is under investigation,” Yoshinori Fukushima, a public relations official for Nagashiki Shipping, said.
The island nation’s Ministry of Environment said in a statement that they have set up a committee to identify how best to orchestrate the cleanup. The ministry warned the public to stay away from the affected area because of toxic fumes.