Race in Mauritius to empty oil tanker before it breaks up

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This photo taken and provided by Sophie Seneque, shows oil in Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, Sunday Aug. 9, 2020, after it leaked from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Thousands of students, environmental activists and residents of Mauritius are working around the clock to reduce the damage done to the Indian Ocean island from an oil spill after a ship ran aground on a coral reef. Shipping officials said an estimated 1 ton of oil from the Japanese ships cargo of 4 tons has escaped into the sea. Workers were trying to stop more oil from leaking, but with high winds and rough seas on Sunday there were reports of new cracks in the ship's hull. (Sophie Seneque via AP)

JOHANNESBURG – Urgent efforts increased in Mauritius on Monday to empty a stranded Japanese ship of an estimated 2,500 tons of oil before the vessel breaks up and increases the contamination of the island's once-pristine Indian Ocean coastline.

Already more than 1,000 tons of fuel has washed up on the eastern coast of Mauritius, polluting its coral reefs, protected lagoons and shoreline.

High winds and waves are pounding the MV Wakashio, which was showing signs of splitting apart and dumping its remaining cargo oil into the waters surrounding Mauritius. The bulk carrier ran aground on a coral reef two weeks ago.

“We are expecting the worst,” Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said.

“The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days," Gardenne said. "So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton.”

French experts arrived from the nearby island of Reunion and were deploying booms to try to contain any new oil spill, Gardenne said. France sent a navy ship, military aircraft and technical advisers after Mauritius appealed for international help Friday.

“The booms should be in place within hours, which we hope will help to protect the coastline from further damage,” he said. The booms will boost the improvised barriers that thousands of volunteers in Mauritius created from fabric tubes stuffed with straw and sugar cane leaves.

Amid the rough seas, efforts were also underway to get other ships close enough to pump large amounts of oil out of the MV Wakashio.