The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is in the grip of an environmental emergency as authorities struggle to contain a growing oil spill from a cargo ship that ran aground near the beautiful Blue Bay Marine Park.
It is an area on the flight path into and out of the international airport and will thus be known to many South African travellers.
It is also close to popular holiday beaches at Pointe d’Esny near the town of Mahebourg on the east side of the island. Nearby resorts include the Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa, and the Peninsula Bay Beach Resort & Spa.
Ship is a Japanese-owned bulk carrier
The ship, the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio, is a bulk carrier with around 4 000 tons of oil in its tanks.
It ran around last month, but only began to leak oil on Thursday. On Friday, the Mauritian Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, declared a state of environmental emergency.
He has appealed for international help, emphasising the island lacks the resources to adequately deal with a spill of this size or to refloat the ship.
Special appeal made to France for help
He particularly pleaded for help from the nearby island of Reunion, which is part of France.
French President Emmanuel Macron has since confirmed that assistance is being sent. “If biodiversity is at risk, there is an urgent need for action,” he said on Twitter. “France is here.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Africa has warned that there is a significant threat to marine and other wildlife.
“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,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Happy Khambule.
Ship’s owners issue an apology to Mauritians
The ship’s owners, Nagashiki Shipping, said in a statement released on Saturday that it “deeply apologised” to the people of Mauritius for “causing them so much trouble”.
“To protect the environment, we will do our utmost to recover the leaked oil, pump out the oil that remains in the ship and remove the ship safely while coordinating with Mauritius and relevant Japanese agencies,” the company said.