Desperate efforts to avert an ecological disaster in the crystal-clear waters of Mauritius were still underway on Saturday, with relief from France, after an oil tanker containing 4,000 tonnes of fuel ran aground in the protected maritime area.
Disarmed, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth asked for emergency aid from France, admitting that the small nation in the Indian Ocean did not have the material or technical means to face what could be an environmental tragedy.
“When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act. France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius, ”French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter on Saturday, announcing the sending of aid from Reunion.
French naval vessel Le Champlain sailed for Mauritius on Saturday, while an Air Force plane was scheduled to make two rotations over the spill site, both fitted with specialized pollution control equipment and having experts on hand. edge.
The Wakashio, owned by a Japanese company, but flying the Panamanian flag, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of heavy oil and 200 tonnes of diesel when it struck a reef at Pointe d’Esny at the end of July.
On the south-eastern coast of the island, this reef is an ecological gem known for its internationally listed conservation sites, turquoise waters and protected wetlands. Mauritian authorities announced Thursday that oil was leaking from the cracked hull of the bulk carrier.
Aerial images taken in recent days already show the scale of the disaster: immense black sheets in the azure sea, move towards the lagoons, the coral reefs and the idyllic beaches of white sand which made Mauritius a pearl of green tourism.
“Covered in black”
On the shores on Saturday, volunteers hastily constructed floating ropes, made of straw and empty bottles, to try and contain the drifting slick.
“All the volunteers are covered in black,” Sunil Dowarkasing, a former Greenpeace activist and environmental expert, who is helping to clean up from Mahébourg (south-east), one of the most affected areas, told AFP. .
“We will never recover from this damage. But what we can do is try to limit them, ”he still hopes.
So far, the rough waters have made operations difficult to limit oil leaks. According to a spokesperson for Mitsui OSK Lines, which operates the vessel, attempts to evacuate fuel by helicopter have failed.
“We tried to place a containment boom around the ship, but it is not working well due to the strong waves,” he told AFP in Tokyo.
And the situation could get even worse with a bleak weather forecast for the weekend. “We do not know what will happen to the boat,” confessed the Prime Minister of Mauritius.
The opposition called for the resignation of the environment and fisheries ministers, criticizing the government for not acting sooner.
Environmentalists fear that the boat will eventually break and cause colossal damage at sea and on the coastline.
Mauritius and its 1.3 million inhabitants depend on these waters for food and ecotourism in an area which has the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and is a sanctuary for rare and endemic fauna, as well as unique wetlands. classified.