From Mauritius, mobilization continues to prevent the ecological catastrophe

Response teams doubled their efforts in Mauritius on Monday to prevent another oil spill after a bulk carrier founded on a reef in the southeastern Indian state.

A race against time to avoid an ecological disaster. Response groups in Mauritius mobilized on Monday 10 August to prevent a new oil leak in their paradisiacal waters, the boat stranded with almost 2,000 tonnes of fuel on board threatening at any time.

Bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which was transporting 3,800 tonnes of fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel, struck a reef in Pointe d’Esny on 25 July. A crack in the hull led to an oil leak that soiled coral reefs, lagoons and mangroves. An outstanding environmental disaster for this island in the Indian Ocean.

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Located on the southeast coast of the island, Pointe d’Esny is an ecological gem known for its internationally listed conservation areas, turquoise waters and protected wetlands. More than 1,000 of the 4,000 tons of fuel transported by MV Wakashio have already been spilled at sea, according to Akihiko Ono, vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, the Japanese company that operates the ship.

Helicopters took some of the pumped fuel to the coast on Monday, but the efforts were initially hindered by rough seas and strong winds. However, weather conditions, which brought the oil spill spilled by the bulk carrier closer to the coast, improved, allowing a barge to approach the ship, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced.

“So we could pump 500 tonnes. That means there are still 1,959 tonnes of fuel oil in the ship,” the prime minister told a news conference.

Buoys were made with leaves from sugar cane, plastic bottles and hair that the residents voluntarily cut off in an attempt to counteract the oil spill.

“Hair absorbs oil, not water,” said Tello, founder of the Mauritius Conscious Ecotourism Agency, interviewed by Reuters.

“The bulk carrier does not have much time in front of him”

The authorities realized that the boat was in danger of breaking down. “We are at an advanced stage of the fracking process. The bulk carrier does not have much time ahead of it,” said a researcher involved in the rescue on condition of anonymity. Divers discovered new cracks in the boat’s hull and a loud cracking sound was heard from the shore, where a major clean-up is underway.

Nearly 3.6 kilometers of hemp and cloth floating ponds were woven, largely by thousands of volunteers, in an attempt to contain the water table.

On Monday, Japan sent a team of six members, including the Coast Guard, to help Mauritian authorities. France sent more than 20 tons of equipment, including 1,300 meters of booms, pumping equipment and protection, as well as about ten experts by plane and boat from Reunion. About 200 kilometers away, the French island is not threatened, the French government said.

A spokesman for Mitsui OSK Lines also indicated that the company would send a team of experts on Tuesday as soon as they tested negative for Covid-19.

“Deep apologies”

The Japanese company Nagashiki Shipping, the owner of the boat, on Monday presented its “deep apologies to the people of Mauritius” in a statement and promised to do its “best to protect the environment and mitigate the effects of pollution”.

The police would interrogate the captain and crew of MV Wakashio. On Sunday, she seized the navigation reports and recordings of the boat’s communications. The pressure is increasing on Pravind Jugnauth’s government to explain why nothing seems to have been done between the time the boat went ashore and the time when the leak was noticed.

This oil spill is a blow to Mauritian tourism, which is already strongly affected by the new coronavirus pandemic. The island has no active cases of Covid-19 and has not experienced a new infection in several weeks, but its borders remain closed.

With AFP and Reuters