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Mauritius' pristine waters threatened by oil spill

The stricken MV Wakashio which has run aground off Mauritius.

The prime minister of Mauritius has declared a state of environmental emergency as the oil spill crisis in the Indian Ocean worsens.

Japanese bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, ran aground around July 25 off the coast of Mauritius and is now leaking tonnes of diesel and oil into the ocean. According to local reports, by August 5, residents from Pointe d’Esny in the southeastern corner of the island were warning that the ship was sinking.

Rough seas over the weekend hampered efforts to stem the flow of oil, which continues to pollute the waters in an ecologically critical marine area off the island’s southeastern coast.

Greenpeace Africa is predicting “dire consequences” for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health. It says thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourd are at risk of drowning in a sea of oil.

The Mauritian government is now appealing to France for urgent assistance.

Aerial images show huge stretches of ocean stained black by the spill. Reports on the ground show that oil has slicked coral reefs, lagoons and white-sand shores. The spill has now reached north to the east coast. All contaminated areas are restricted but despite this, conservation organisations are working tirelessly with volunteers to clear up what they can.

Volunteers attempt to clean up the oil that is washing ashore.

Fuel was being airlifted by helicopter from the stricken vessel to shore but the poor weather was complicating the operation and high waves were swamping the containment boom that was put in place around the ship. The concern now is that the ship may break into two parts, with 2,500 metric tons of fuel still on board.

The French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from the nearby French Indian Ocean island of Reunion would deploy pollution-control equipment to the area.

Aerial images of the oil slick as it spreads along the southeast and eastern coasts of Mauritius.

Meanwhile, Tokyo-based Mitsui OSK Lines which operates MV Wakashio has apologised “profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused.”

Greenpeace has called for an end to the use of fossil fuels.

“There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products,” said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa’s senior climate and energy campaign manager. “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the climate crisis, as well as devastating oceans and biodiversity and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa’s precious lagoons.”


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