Environmentalists in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, say they are expecting the worst in a race to drain about 2,500 tonnes of oil from a Japanese wreck before it bursts in half and further pollutes the sea.
MV Wakashio, who was hugged in a coral reef two weeks ago near the island country off the east coast of Africa, has already leaked more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel, according to the Associated Press. High winds and waves are now hitting the stranded ship while showing signs of separation.
“The ship is showing really big and big cracks. We believe it will explode in two at any time, at most within two days,” warned the manager of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, Jean Hugues Gardenne. “So much oil remains “On the ship, so the disaster could get a lot worse. It ̵6;s important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are running out of fuel little by little, ton by ton.”
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“We are expecting the worst,” he added.
French experts have arrived from the nearby island of Reunion and are setting up floating barriers to try to contain any new oil spills, Gardenne said. France sent a naval vessel, military aircraft and technical advisers after Mauritius appealed for international assistance on Friday, while Japan said it would send a six-member team of experts to help.
Efforts are being made to bring the other vessels close enough to pump large quantities of oil from the MV Wakashio.
“The risk of the ship breaking into two is increasing hour by hour,” environmental adviser Sunil Dowarkasing, a former member of parliament in Mauritius, told the Associated Press. “The boats have now reached the base of the ship and there is still a lot of fuel on the ship.”
The ship ran aground on July 25, but work to remove the oil it was transporting began only last week when the hull burst and began to deplete fuel at sea, according to Dowarkasing.
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MV Wakashio owner Nagashiki Shipping said Monday that two boats had arrived at the scene to pump oil from the endangered vessel.
“A hose connection has been successfully established … and the transfer of fuel oil is underway,” the company said in a statement. Nagashiki Shipping added that it is working with the Mauritian authorities “to mitigate the spill” and that “the main focus at this time is … environmental protection”.
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Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the government of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth to explain why it did not take immediate action to avert the environmental catastrophe. Jugnauth has declared the oil spill a national emergency, but some residents say it acted too late.
Opposition and activists are calling for the resignation of the ministers of environment and fisheries. Volunteers have ignored a government order to leave the clean-up operation to local officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.