Large numbers of people are gathered on the shores of Mauritius, trying to help contain an oil spill that is threatening the island's ecosystem. More than 1,000 tonnes of fuel has seeped from the bulk carrier MV Wakashio into the azure sea off southeast Mauritius. But another 2,500 tonnes remain aboard the stricken vessel, which ran aground on a reef on July 25 but only started oozing from a crack in the hull in the past week.
PORT LOUIS - Salvage crews raced against time to prevent a second disastrous oil spill off the picture-perfect coastline of Mauritius, with a damaged tanker carrying thousands of tonnes of fuel at risk of splitting apart.
The bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on July 25 with 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard and began seeping oil last week, staining coral reefs, mangrove forests and tranquil lagoons in an unprecedented environmental catastrophe for the archipelago nation.
More than 1,000 tonnes has already oozed from the ship, its Japanese operator says, causing untold ecological damage to protected marine parks and fishing grounds that form the backbone of Mauritius' economy.
Fuel was being slowly airlifted from the ship on Monday by helicopter to the shore, but efforts to pump more from the hold were being thwarted by rough seas and strong winds.
Some fuel has been removed but 2,500 tonnes remains aboard, said Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who warned cracks in the hull were worsening, and there was a very real chance the boat could split.
"We are in an advanced fracturing process. The bulk carrier does not have much time ahead of it," said one scientist working on the emergency effort, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Divers have reported fresh cracks in the hull, while creaking sounds from the vessel could be heard from the southeast shore, where a major clean-up operation is underway to remove treacly sludge coating miles of Mauritius' unspoiled coastline.
Thousands of volunteers, many smeared head-to-toe in black sludge, have turned out along the coast since Friday, stringing together miles of improvised floating barriers made of straw in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide.