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France offers aid as Mauritius declares emergency over oil leak from grounded ship

This photo taken and provided by Georges de La Tremoille of Mu Press shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.
This photo taken and provided by Georges de La Tremoille of Mu Press shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. AP - Georges de La Tremoille

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Saturday to send teams and equipment to help Mauritius deal with an oil spill that environmentalists fear could be a major ecological disaster.

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The bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on July 25 on a reef on the south east coast of the Indian Ocean island. Pravind Jugnauth, prime minister of Mauritius, declared a state of environmental emergency and pleaded for international help on Friday.

"The sinking of the #Wakashio represents a danger for Mauritius," Jugnauth said in a tweet.

Macron responded by saying France was deploying teams and equipment from neighbouring Reunion Island.

A military aircraft from Reunion carrying pollution-control equipment will make two flights over the spill site on Saturday, while a naval vessel carrying booms and absorbents will also set sail, authorities on Reunion said.

"When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act. France is there. Alongside the Mauritian people. You can count on our support," Macron said in a tweet.

The carrier, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, ran aground on July 25 and its crew was evacuated safely.

The ship was empty at the time but was carrying 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel, according to the local press.

"The ministry has been informed... that there is a breach in the vessel MV Wakashio and there is a leakage of oil," the environment ministry said in a statement.

"The public in general, including boat operators and fishers, are requested not to venture on the beach and in the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d'Esny and Mahebourg."

Shipping websites say the Wakashio was built in 2007, with gross tonnage of 101,000 tonnes and deadweight tonnage of 203,000 tonnes, and a length of 299.95 metres (984 feet).

The grounding happened at Pointe d'Esny, which is listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and near the marine park of Blue Bay.

'Catastrophe'

Anti-pollution systems have been sent to the two sites, the ministry said, adding that the government was asking the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion for assistance.

"We are in an environmental crisis situation," Environment Minister Kavy Ramano told a press conference.

"This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem," said Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo.

The ministers said that all attempts to stabilise the ship had failed because of rough seas, and efforts to pump out the oil had also failed.

Ecologists fear the ship could break up, which would cause an even greater leak and inflict potentially catastrophic damage on the island's coastline.

The country depends crucially on its seas for food and for tourism, boasting some of the finest coral reefs in the world.

"The current oil spill on the reef near Pointe d'Esny on the south east coast of the Mauritian island is likely one of the most terrible ecological crises ever seen on the small island country," the environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

 

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