An environmental emergency has been declared after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tonnes of fuel into the Indian Ocean.
Anxious residents of the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius stuffed fabric sacks with sugar cane leaves to create makeshift oil spill barriers as the immense fuel load put endangered wildlife in further peril.
Satellite images from the weekend showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near wetlands that the government called "very sensitive"
"When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act," French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. France has said it was sending help from its nearby Reunion Island.
Wildlife workers and volunteers ferried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants from an island near the spill, Ile aux Aigrettes, to the mainland as fears grew that worsening weather on Sunday (local time) could tear the Japanese-owned ship apart along its cracked hull.
A French statement from Reunion said a military transport aircraft was carrying pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with additional material would set sail for the island nation.
Residents and environmentalists alike wondered why authorities didn't act more quickly after the ship ran aground on a reef on July 25. Mauritius says the ship, the MV Wakashio, was carrying nearly 4000 tonnes (3600 metric tonnes) of fuel.
"That's the big question," Jean Hugues Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation told The Associated Press.
"Why that ship has been sitting for [so] long on that coral reef and nothing being done."
This is the country's first oil spill, he said, adding that perhaps no one expected the ship to break apart. For days, residents peered out at the precariously tilted ship as a salvage team arrived and began to work, but ocean waves kept battering the ship.
"They just hit and hit and hit," Mr Gardenne said.
Absolutely shattered by the ecological crisis faced by Mauritius. These pictures of the oil spill, wrecking our most beautiful lagoons, were taken by my friend Eric Villars on his flight to Rodrigues this morning. #mauritius #oilspill #wakashio #bluebay #coralreefs #marinepark pic.twitter.com/DRTLthCZw1— Priya Hein (@PriyaHein) August 7, 2020
Cracks in the hull were detected a few days ago and the salvage team was quickly evacuated. Some 400 sea booms were deployed to contain the spill, but they were not enough.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth says the spill "represents a danger" for the country of 1.3 million people who rely heavily on tourism and have been been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted travel worldwide.
With Reuters and Associated Press
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