Port Louis - Fuel spilling from a Japanese bulk carrier that ran aground on a reef in Mauritius two weeks ago is creating an ecological disaster, endangering corals, fish and other marine life around the Indian Ocean island, officials and environmentalists say.
The MV Wakashio, owned by the Nagashiki Shipping Company, struck the reef on Mauritius' southeast coast on July 25.
On Thursday, the government said fuel was leaking from a crack in the vessel's hull and Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency, pleading for international help.
"The sinking of the Wakashio represents a danger for Mauritius," Jugnauth said.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the spill was to likely to be one of the most terrible ecological crises that Mauritius has ever seen.
"Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d'Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health," Greenpeace said in a statement.
Satellite images released on Friday showed a slick spreading out into the turquoise waters surrounding the stricken vessel. Some fuel has washed ashore. France was sending specialist teams and equipment to help Mauritius deal with the spill, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
A French military aircraft from the neighbouring island of Reunion, a French overseas territory, carrying pollution-control equipment would make two flights over the spill site on Saturday. A naval vessel carrying booms and absorbents would also set sail, authorities on Reunion said.
"When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act," Macron said. "You can count on our support."
Nagashiki Shipping Company said it had tried to free the the tanker but the effort was hampered by persistent bad weather.
"We will do our utmost working with the Mauritius authorities and relevant Japanese organizations to offload the oil still in the ship, clean up the spill and safely remove the vessel," Nagashiki said in a statement.
The tanker is 299.5 meters long and 50 meters wide and has a crew of 20, it said. It is flagged in Panama with Okiyo Marine, an affiliate of Nagashiki Shipping, listed as the owner.
It is grounded at what the ministry of the environment has described as a sensitive zone with the leaking fuel spreading a black stain in the azure water endangering the diverse marine life that attracts tourists from around the world.
Videos posted on social media showed residents near where the ship was grounded dipping sticks into the ocean that glistened with the black stain of the spilled oil. Mauritius, famous for its pristine beaches, is popular with tourists who last year contributed 63 billion Mauritius rupees ($1.6 billion) to the economy.