Alarm Over Eco Crisis Grows Amid Fears Ship Leaking Oil Near Mauritius...

Alarm Over Eco Crisis Grows Amid Fears Ship Leaking Oil Near Mauritius Could Break In Two

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‘We Are Expecting the Worst’: Alarm Over Eco Crisis
Grows Amid Fears Ship Leaking Oil Near Mauritius Could Break
in Two

Climate campaigers charge that “this oil leak
is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted
addiction to fossil fuels.”

by Jessica
Corbett, staff writer

Bystanders
look at MV Wakashio bulk carrier that had run aground and is
leaking oil near Blue Bay Marine Park in southeast Mauritius
on August 6, 2020. (Photo: Dev Ramkhelawon/L’Express
Maurice/AFP via Getty Images)

Urgent
efforts to contain an oil spill off the coast of Mauritius
reportedly
ramped up on Monday due to fears that a cracked ship
spilling fuel into the Indian Ocean—polluting nearby coral
reefs, mangrove forests, and beaches of the island
nation—could soon split in two, exacerbating the local
environmental crisis.

Though the Japanese-owned vessel
ran aground on a coral reef near Mauritius on July 25, work
to safely remove the estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil it was
carrying kicked off last week, when the ship starting
seeping fuel into the ocean. Over 1,000 tonnes of oil is
believed to have leaked into the surrounding
waters.

The Associated Press reported
Monday that “high winds and waves are pounding the MV
Wakashio,” a ship owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated
by Mitsui OSK Lines, also based in Japan. The vessel departed
China on July 14 and was bound for Brazil, but is now
leaking oil about a mile from Mauritius, which is east of
the African continent.

Mauritius Prime Minister
Pravind Jugnauth has declared an environmental emergency and
called for international help. France, which formerly
colonized the island nation, dispatched
a naval vessel, a military aircraft, and technical advisers
while Japan said Sunday it would send a six-person team to
help.

Jugnauth told
reporters Sunday that emergency crews temporarily stemmed
the leak but were still preparing for the worst. He also
expressed concerned about the condition of the stranded
ship. “The cracks have grown. The situation is even worse,”
he said. “The risk of the boat breaking in half still
exists.”

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean
Hugues Gardenne echoed that warning to the AP on
Monday, saying that “we are expecting the worst.”

“The
ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will
break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days,”
Gardenne said. “So much oil remains in the ship, so the
disaster could become much worse. It’s important to remove
as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel
little by little, ton by ton.”

French experts from the
nearby island of Reunion were deploying booms to try to
contain oil that “should be in place within hours, which we
hope will help to protect the coastline from further
damage,” he added. The booms are expected to bolster
improvised barriers created by thousands of volunteers in
Mauritius.

“People have realized that they need to
take things into their hands. We are here to protect our
fauna and flora,” Ashok Subron, a local environmental
activist in Mahébourg, one of the worst impacted areas, told
Agence France-Presse.

Sunil Dowarkasing, a
former Greenpeace strategist and environmental expert
assisting in the clean-up effort, said
that “all the volunteers are covered black.”

“We
will never be able to recover from this damage. But what we
can do is try to mitigate as much as we can,” Dowarkasing
told AFP from Mahébourg.

As the news agency
reported:

The Wakashio struck a reef at
Pointe d’Esny, an ecological jewel fringed by idyllic
beaches, colorful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic
wildlife, and unique RAMSAR-listed wetlands.

Mauritius
and its 1.3 million inhabitants depend crucially on its seas
for food and for ecotourism, and has fostered a reputation
as a conservation success story and a world-class
destination for nature lovers.

Ecologists fear if the
ship further breaks it could inflict potentially
catastrophic damage on the island nation’s coastline, which
forms the backbone of the economy.

Josué
Dardenne, a 42-year-old small boat tour operator, told
the Guardian that the Covid-19 crisis had already
impacted Mauritius, explaining that “the whole region we
operate in has been affected. Our business has stopped. It
has been bad for months because of the pandemic but now it’s
going to get worse.”

Global climate campaigners have
responded to the oil spill in recent days with condemnation
for the fossil fuel industry and calls for international
assistance.

“Thousands of species around the pristine
lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny, and Mahebourg are at
risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire
consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and
health,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa senior Climate
and Energy Campaign manager, said
in a statement Friday, calling on the United Nations and all
governments to support Mauritius’ clean-up
work.

“There is no guaranteed safe way to extract,
transport, and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is
not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction
to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our
withdrawal from fossil fuels,” added Khambule. “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 most precious
lagoons.”

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