France Deploys Equipment to Mauritius to Help Contain Oil Spill

    10 August 2020

    France has sent equipment to Mauritius to help contain an oil spill from a Japanese ship.

    France's defense ministry said a French military plane transported pollution control equipment. A navy boat supplied additional material from the nearby French island of Reunion.

    An estimated one thousand metric tons of oil escaped into the sea before the leak was stopped. However, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth warned that the badly damaged ship still holds about 2000 metric tons of oil.

    "It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart," he said Monday night in a televised speech.

    The ship crashed into a reef off the island's southeast coast two weeks ago, becoming trapped. The accident happened near the popular Blue Bay Marine Park, known for its rich sea life and clear blue waters.

    This photo taken and provided by Eric Villars shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Aug. 7, 2020.
    This photo taken and provided by Eric Villars shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Aug. 7, 2020.

    The ship is owned by Japan's Nagashiki Shipping company.

    Jugnauth declared a state of emergency Friday and appealed for international help.

    Thousands of students, environmental activists and citizens have joined efforts to reduce damage from the spill.

    Sunil Dowarkasing is an environmental expert and former member of parliament. "This is no longer a threat to our environment, it is a full-blown ecological disaster that has affected one of the most environmentally important parts of Mauritius," he said.

    Dowarkasing was speaking about the Mahebourg Lagoon, a protected area established several years ago.

    Satellite images showed the dark spill spreading in waters near wetlands the government called "very sensitive." Wildlife workers and volunteers gathered baby tortoises and rare plants from an island near the spill and took them to the mainland.

    Some people made equipment to help contain the oil. The handmade floats include materials know to absorb oil, like cloth, leaves and even human hair. Dowarkasing said the floats were helping to slow the oil spread in many areas.

    Continuous wind and waves have spread the fuel across the eastern side of the island, Dowarkasing said, adding "We've never seen anything like this in Mauritius."

    Local people and environmentalists have questioned why officials did not act more quickly after the ship crashed on July 25. "That's the big question," said Jean Hugues Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. "Why that ship has been sitting for so long on that coral reef and nothing being done," he told The Associated Press.

    For days, locals watched as a salvage team worked around the tanker. The country's environment ministry announced this week that oil had begun leaking from a break in the ship.

    In Japan, officials from Nagashiki Shipping and the ship's operator, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, apologized Sunday for the spill.

    At their first news conference since the crash, the officials said they had sent experts to Mauritius to join the cleanup effort. The companies promised to act in an environmentally responsible way and said they did not plan to use harmful chemicals in the cleanup operations.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    reef n. a line of rocks or sand at or near the surface of the sea

    ecological adj. relating to the relationships between a group of living things and their environment

    coral n. a hard, usually pink or white substance produced by a type of a very small sea animal

    salvage n. the activity of saving things from being damaged or lost