onservationists say they are finding dead fish and seabirds covered in oil, increasing fears of an ecological catastrophe. Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, Happy Khambule, discusses the Mauritius oil spill. Courtesy #DStv403
PORT LOUIS - A Japanese ship that ran aground on a reef off Mauritius two weeks ago has now stopped leaking oil into the Indian Ocean but the island nation must still prepare for "a worst-case scenario", Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said.
Conservationists said they were starting to find dead fish as well as seabirds covered in oil, increasing fears of an ecological catastrophe despite a massive local cleanup operation that includes making floating booms from leaves and human hair.
Jugnauth said the leak from a damaged oil tank on board the stricken vessel, the MV Wakashio, had stopped but that it still had 2,000 tonnes of oil in two other, undamaged tanks.
"The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation," Jugnauth said in a televised speech, parts of which were made available to Reuters by his office.
"We should prepare for a worst-case scenario. It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart."
Mauritius has declared a state of emergency and former colonial ruler France has sent aid in what environmental group Greenpeace said could be a major ecological crisis. Japan has also sent help.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.
The nearby Blue Bay Marine Park, known for its corals and myriad fish species, has so far escaped damage but a lagoon containing an island nature reserve, the Ile Aux Aigrettes, is already covered in oil, he said.
At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked so far, with 500 tonnes salvaged.