The island nation of Mauritius has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a stricken Japanese vessel offshore began leaking oil into the ocean.
Mauritius declares environmental emergency as stranded ship leaks oil
Mauritians are making floating booms of fabric sacks, straw, leaves, and even human hair in a round-the-clock scramble to mop up oil leaking from a grounded Japanese ship onto their pristine Indian Ocean beaches. The ruptured MV Wakashio, believed to have been carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July. Images posted online by local media showed volunteers collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers, while others have been making their own tubes with tights and human hair to add to the effort and some have been cleaning up the island’s beaches.
Hair absorbs oil but not water — so there’s been a big campaign around the island to get hair
The stricken ship MV Wakashio, owned by the Nagashiki Shipping Company and operated by Mitsui OSK Line, began oozing fuel into the turquoise sea waters last week after hitting a reef off the island, reported Reuters earlier today.
Mauritius has declared a state of emergency and former colonial ruler France has sent aid in what environmental group Greenpeace said could be a major ecological crisis.
Romina Tello, 30-year-old founder of eco-tourism agency Mauritius Conscious, spent the weekend helping clean black sludge from mangrove swamps. She said Mauritians were making booms to float on the sea out of sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and hair that people were voluntarily cutting off.
“Hair absorbs oil but not water,” Tello explained by phone to Reuters’ Katharine Houreld. “There’s been a big campaign around the island to get the hair.”
Videos online show volunteers sewing leaves and hair into nets to float on the surface and corral the oil until it can be sucked up by hoses.
Diving centres, fishermen and others have all joined in the cleanup effort, with some providing sandwiches, guesthouses offering free accommodation to volunteers and hair salons offering discounts to those donating hair, Tello said.
The oil spill is near the Blue Bay Marine Park, known for its spectacular corals and myriad fish species.
“It is really moving – everyone is doing what we can. It breaks our hearts to see the damage,” Tello said.
Mauritius relies on tourism as a major contributor to its economy, 63 billion rupees ($1.6 billion) last year.
“We apologise profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, told reporters in Tokyo on Sunday, pledging to do everything possible to stem the spill.
At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked, with 500 tonnes salvaged and some 2,500 tonnes remaining.
New fears vessel may ‘break in two’ as cracks appear
Large cracks have reportedly appeared in the hull of a leaking oil tanker in Mauritius, prompting the prime minister to warn it may "break in two", the BBC reported today.
High winds of 50km/h (31mph) have halted the clean-up operation. Huge waves up to 5m in height are expected in the coming hours, posing yet more difficulties to teams working to remove the oil and avert an ecological disaster.
Until bad weather put the mission on hold, fuel was being transferred to shore by helicopter and to another tanker owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping.
Former colonial ruler France has sent a military aircraft with pollution control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan has sent a six-member team to assist the French efforts.
Mitsui OSK Lines, the operator of the ship, said on Sunday it had tried to place its own containment booms around the vessel but had not been successful owing to rough seas.
Police in Mauritius say they have been granted a search warrant, allowing them to board the vessel take away items of interest such as the ship’s log book in order to help with an investigation. The ship’s captain will assist officers with their search.
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