Mauritius announced oil is leaking from a bulk carrier that ran aground in the southeast of the island, igniting fears of an environmental catastrophe.
“The ministry has been informed … that there is a breach in the vessel MV Wakashio and there is a leakage of oil,” the environment ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
“The public in general, including boat operators and fishers, are requested not to venture on the beach and in the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg.”
The carrier, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, ran aground on July 25 and its crew was evacuated safely.
The ship was carrying 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel, according to the local press.
The grounding happened at Pointe d’Esny, which is listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and near the marine park of Blue Bay.
Anti-pollution systems have been sent to the two sites, the ministry said, adding the government was asking the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion for assistance.
“We are in an environmental crisis situation,” Environment Minister Kavy Ramano told a news conference.
Shipping websites say the Wakashio was built in 2007 with a gross tonnage of 101,000 and deadweight tonnage of 203,000, and a length of 300 metres (984 feet).
“This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem,” said Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo.
The ministers said all attempts to stabilise the ship had failed because of rough seas, and efforts to pump out the oil also failed.
Ecologists fear the ship could break up, which would cause an even greater leak and inflict potentially catastrophic damage on the island’s coastline.
The country depends crucially on its seas for food and for tourism, boasting some of the finest coral reefs in the world.