Officials in the island nation of Mauritius are working to stop a cargo ship from leaking thousands of tons of oil into the Indian Ocean as fears grow about the vessel breaking in half.
The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef late last month off the coast of Africa and has so far leached an estimated 1,000 tons of fuel into the crystal-clear waters near Mauritius, a country of about 1.2 million people.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Monday that while efforts are underway to pump fuel out of the doomed vessel, officials are still preparing for a “worst-case scenario” given the fears that the ocean will pull the ship apart and further pollute the area, which is home to delicate marine life.
Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne cautioned that the Japanese ship could break in half in the coming days, according to the Associated Press.
“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 warned. “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.”
“We are expecting the worst,” Gardenne added.
Happy Khamule of environmental group Greenpeace Africa told the BBC that there are “thousands” of species “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security, and health.”
Both France and Japan have offered assistance, but residents of Mauritius have been doing their part to contain the spill. Some hairdressers have reportedly offered residents free cuts in order to donate their hair, which absorbs oil and not water. The hair is then added to netting and tubes in an attempt to corral and control the fuel spill.
“People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora,” said environmental activist Ashok Subron over the weekend.
Jugnauth said on Monday that some 500 tons of fuel had been pumped out of the wreckage. The waste was transferred to another ship owned by the same company using helicopters.