The island nation of Mauritius has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after a vessel offshore began leaking oil into the ocean.
MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July and its crew was evacuated.
Mauritius ( (listen) mə-RISH-(ee-)əs, maw-; French: Maurice [mɔʁis, moʁis] (listen); Creole: Moris [moʁis]), officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) off the south-east coast of the African continent. It includes the eponymous main island of Mauritius and Rodrigues, Agaléga and St. Brandon. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The capital and largest city, Port Louis, is located on Mauritius, where most of the population is concentrated. The country spans 2,040 square kilometres (790 sq mi) and has an Exclusive Economic Zone covering 2.3 million square kilometres.Arab sailors were possibly the first to discover the uninhabited island around 975, which they called Dina Arobi. The earliest confirmed discovery was in 1507 by Portuguese sailors, who otherwise took little interest in the islands. The Dutch took possession in 1598, establishing a succession of short-lived settlements before abandoning their efforts in 1710. France took control in 1715, renaming it Isle de France. About a century later, it ceded Mauritius and its dependencies to Great Britain. As a British colony, Mauritius included Rodrigues, Agalega, St. Brandon, Tromelin, the Chagos Archipelago, and, until 1906, the Seychelles. Sovereignty over Tromelin is disputed between Mauritius and France, as it was not specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Paris. Mauritius remained a primarily plantation-based colony of the United Kingdom until independence in 1968.
In 1965, three years prior to the independence of Mauritius, the U.K. split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritian territory, and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches from the Seychelles, to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The local population was forcibly expelled and the largest island, Diego Garcia, was leased to the United States. The UK has restricted access to the Chagos Archipelago to casual tourists, the media, and its former inhabitants. The sovereignty of the Chagos is disputed between Mauritius and the UK. In February 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion ordering the UK to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius as rapidly as possible, in order to complete the decolonisation of Mauritius.
Owing to its geographic location and centuries of colonialism, the people of Mauritius are highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and faith; it is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the largest religion. The island’s government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Mauritius is categorised as “high” in the Human Development Index. According to the World Bank, the country is classified as a high-income economy. Mauritius is ranked as the most competitive and one of the most developed economies in the African region. The country is a welfare state; the government provides free universal health care, free education up to tertiary level and free public transport for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. Mauritius was ranked among the safest or most peaceful countries by the Global Peace Index 2019.Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island was the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island’s settlement.
Mauritius declares emergency as ship leaks oil
But the large bulk carrier has since begun leaking tons of fuel into the surrounding waters.
France has pledged support and the ship’s owner said it was working to combat the spill.
Mauritius declares emergency as ship leaks oil
Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared the state of emergency late on Friday.
He said the nation did not have “the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships” as he appealed to France for help.
The French island of Reunion lies near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of the nation’s economy.
“When biodiversity is in peril, there is urgency to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday.
“France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth.”
- Mauritius country profile
In a separate statement, the French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from Reunion would bring pollution control equipment to Mauritius.
Happy Khambule of Greenpeace Africa said “thousands” of animal species were “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health”.
The ship – owned by a Japanese company but registered in Panama – was empty when it ran aground, but had some 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard.
MV Wakashio is currently lying at Pointe d’Esny, in an area of wetlands near a marine park.
In a statement, the ship’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said that “due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea”.
“Oil prevention measures are in place and an oil boom has been deployed around the vessel,” it said.
Nagashiki Shipping added that it “takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and will take every effort with partner agencies and contractors to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution”.
Earlier, the environment ministry reportedly said attempts to stabilise the vessel and to pump out the oil had failed due to rough seas.
“This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem,” Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo said.
Police have opened an inquiry into the spill.