Ship leaking tons of oil off Mauritius has split apart

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The grounded Japanese ship that leaked tons of oil near protected areas off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius has split apart, officials said Saturday, with remaining fuel spreading into the turquoise waters.

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Photos posted on social media by the official cleanup effort with support of the environment ministry show the ship in two pieces, “and the tugboats are already at work.” Oil barriers were in place and a skimmer ship was nearby.

Most if not all the remaining 3,000 tons of fuel had been pumped off the ship in the past week as environmental groups warned that the damage to coral reefs and once-pristine coastal areas could be irreversible.

The MV Wakashio struck a reef on July 25 and its hull began to crack after days of pounding waves. Some 1,000 tons of fuel began to leak on Aug. 6.

The Mauritius government is under pressure to explain why immediate action wasn’t taken to empty the ship of its fuel. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth earlier blamed bad weather for the slow response.

Owner Nagashiki Shipping has said “residual” amounts of fuel remained on the ship after pumping. It is investigating why the ship went off course. The ship was meant to stay at least 10 miles (16 kilometers) from shore. The company has sent experts to help in cleaning up the damage.

The Mauritius government is seeking compensation from the company.

After the government declared an environmental emergency, thousands of volunteers rushed to the shore to create makeshift oil barriers from tunnels of fabric stuffed with sugar cane leaves and even human hair, with empty soda bottles tucked in to keep them afloat.

The country of some 1.3 million people relies heavily on tourism and already had taken a severe hit with the coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions.