Police in Mauritius prepared on Sunday to board the Wakashio bulk carrier, which ran aground on 25 July off the island’s south-eastern coast, to see how best to offload its fuel cargo and avoid large-scale pollution.
For his part, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared an “environmental state of emergency”, called a crisis meeting of all authorities concerned and launched an appeal to France, which has military bases in the neighbouring island of La Reunion.
A French navy vessel, the Champlain, left on Saturday for Mauritius, while an air force plane was scheduled to make two trips above the site of the spill. Both the ship and the plane are equipped with specialised anti-pollution systems and have experts on board.
Prime Minister Jugnauth thanked France for its help.
Pending the intervention of the police, hundreds of volunteers rushed to the coast to protect it from oil leaking from the ship, which was carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel. “People understand they need to take things in hand to protect the fauna and flora,” Ashok Subron, an ecological activist from the nearby town of Mahébourg, told the French news agency AFP.
Along the shore, dozens of volunteers plaited hemp and cloth into a floating boom to contain the oil spilling from boat, which ran aground on a reef about 100 metres offshore and whose poop is largely submerged.
Police planned to board the vessel together with its captain, a 58-year-old Indian national, to obtain its navigation documents and, in particular, records of its communications before the wreck.
The carrier’s 20-member crew were safely evacuated after the accident. The vessel, bearing Panamanian flag, belongs to a Japanese shipowner and is operated by another Japanese company, Mitsui OSK Lines.
A spokesman for Mitsui told AFP earlier in Tokyo that their efforts to offload the cargo by helicopter had been marred by bad weather, which had also prevented the placing of a floating spill-containment system around the ship.