Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth told the Indian Ocean island nation to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” after a crippled Japanese ship leaked oil off the coast.
Jugnauth said Monday that the MV Wakashio has stopped leaking oil, but “the salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation,” according to televised remarks.
“It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart,” the prime minister said, according to Reuters.
Jugnauth said about 1,000 tons of oil had already leaked, and twice that amount remains on the vessel.
The prime minister declared a state of emergency late Friday.
The Wakashio struck a coral reef at Pointe d’Esny, an internationally recognized conservation site off Mauritius, on July 25. Oil began leaking from the ship last Thursday. Officials say they did not see the cracks in the ship until last week.
Thousands of Mauritius residents converged on the beach to try to prevent the ecological damage using homemade floating oil booms made from leaves, straw and human hair, which can soak up oil.
At Ile Aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve and lagoon, Mauritius Wildlife Foundation conservation director Vikash Tatayah said, “We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil. We are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued.”
The owner of the Japanese ship, Mitsui OSK Lines, has apologized, and the company promised it will “do everything in its power to resolve the issue.”
The Japanese Foreign Ministry is sending a disaster relief team, and France is also sending help. Mauritius is a former French colony.
The island is heavily dependent on tourism, and its economy has already taken a big hit from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wakashio departed China July 14 and was headed for Brazil. Officials are investigating why the vessel veered off course.