The once idyllic azure waters of Mauritius are flowing deadly black after a ship ran aground, leaking tons of oil into the ocean. The impact of the spill is still unclear, but many fear a huge environmental crisis could hit the vibrant biodiversity of the Indian Ocean.
MV WakashioA Japanese bulk carrier currently sailing under the Panamanian flag struck a coral reef off the island on the evening of July 25, according to Nagashiki Shipping Co, who operates the vessel. Over the past week, bad weather has caused the derelict ship to breach and start leaking oil in the crystal clear waters of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) offshore off the southeast coast of Africa.
Although the precise scale of the problem is not yet clear, Agence France-Presse estimates that 1,000 tonnes of oil have already spilled into the sea, while another 2,500 tonnes remain on board. Satellite images released by space technology firm MAXAR on Friday illustrate the seriousness of the situation, showing a hazy black slick of oil bleeding into the surrounding turquoise blue waters.
“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” said Kavy Ramano, Minister of Environment of Mauritius, in a tweet.
The incident is already being said to be one of the worst environmental crises ever seen in the small island nation. This is particularly depressing news given that Mauritius is home to a rich variety of marine life, from tropical fish and large predatory fish to sea turtles and corals.
“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahébourg risk drowning in a sea of pollution, with disastrous consequences for the economy, food security and health of Mauritius,” said said Happy Khambule, head of Greenpeace Africa. the climate and energy campaign manager said in a statement.
Pravind Jugnauth, Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius, tweeted that the oil spill “represents a danger to Mauritius”. He also said the country did not have the infrastructure to solve the problem and called on France to help save the stranded ship.
“When biodiversity is in danger, it is urgent to act. France is there. Alongside the Mauritian people,” replied French President Emmanuel Macron. “You can count on our dear support @PKJugnauth.”
The long and arduous process of cleaning up this mess has already begun. Volunteers try to limit the damage caused by the oil spill by cleaning up the sea with buckets and pumps, but the problem of the stricken ship persists. Nagashiki Shipping Co said it was coordinating with Mauritian authorities to mitigate the effects of any pollution, although salvage efforts have so far proved impossible due to poor sea conditions.
Meanwhile, another environmental crisis is also looming further north in the Indian Ocean. Authorities and environmentalists are more and more worried about a massive transport vessel stranded in the Red Sea since the outbreak of the Yemeni civil war in 2015. Although it has yet to leak, the ship is increasingly destabilized and threatens to spill 1,148 million barrels of light crude oil in the surrounding waters.