Mauritius: Govt Scrambles to Contain Massive Oil Spill

Police say they were authorized to board the Japanese-owned ship as part of its investigation into the oil spill that sparked an ecological disaster. Both Japan and France said they will send disaster relief teams.

The operator of MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier, apologized on Sunday for a major oil leakcaused after it ran aground in Mauritius, triggering an environmental emergency and ecological disaster that has authorities racing to contain the spill.

The Japanese-owned but Panamanian-flagged ship was on its way to Brazil carrying close to 4,000 tons of fuel when it struck the reef on Mauritius' southeast coast on July 25, causing fuel to leak from the cracked vessel.

Some 1,000 tons of oil is estimated to have leaked from the ship and around 500 tons of oil has been recovered from the ship -- but there are still 2,500 tons remaining on the vessel.

"We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused," Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Mitsui OSK Lines said that the company would "do everything in their power to resolve the issue."

Ongoing investigation

Mauritius police said Sunday they would execute a search warrant granted by a court to board the MV Wakashio and seize items of interest, including communication exchanges, as part of its probe into the spill.

Wakashio's captain, a 58-year-old Indian national, will accompany officers on the search, police officials said.

The 20 crew members who were safely evacuated when the ship became stranded are under surveillance.

Neither Mitsui OSK Lines nor the listed owners of the ship, Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd, could confirm the cost of damages from the spill.

Disaster relief mission

In a statement, the Japanese Foreign Ministry on Sunday said it will deploy a six-person specialist team, on the request of the Mauritius government, to assist with removing the oil.

"We hope that this assistance will contribute to the recovery of the environment of Mauritius and prevention of marine pollution," the statement said.

France has also said it will dispatch disaster relief teams to help with the spill as will the nearby island of Reunion, which will also send military aircraft.

French news agency AFP reported that hundreds of volunteers, many covered head-to-toe in black sludge, are stringing together miles of makeshift cordons along the coastline in a bid to hold back the oily tide.

But the oil leak has already caused unprecedented damage to the island's lagoons, marine habitats and beaches.

The island declared a state of environmental emergency on Friday.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," Ashok Subron, an environmental activist at Mahebourg, one of the worst-affected areas, told AFP.

Mauritius -- popular for its marine ecology, pristine waters and white beaches in the Indian Ocean -- is largely dependent on tourism.

mvb/stb (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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