A Japanese bulk carrier that ran aground on a reef in Mauritius last month threatening a marine ecological disaster around the Indian Ocean island has broken apart, authorities have confirmed.
Aerial images taken of the Japanese cargo ship taken on Sunday show how the boat has completely broken into two parts.
The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on 25 July with 4,000 tonnes of fuel.
The Mauritius National Crisis Committee confirmed the ship’s breakage in a statement on Saturday. ‘At around 4.30pm [12:30 GMT], a major detachment of the vessel’s forward section was observed,’ they said.
Pictures show the cargo ship torn in two parts, days after Japanese rescue teams managed to pump the remaining oil off the vehicle to prevent another massive oil spill into the pristine waters.
Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth confirmed Tuesday that all the fuel had been pumped from the reservoirs of the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio and added that about 100 tonnes remained elsewhere on board the vessel.
The Mauritian government has been criticised for doing too little in the week after the ship crashed into the reef. According to SBSNews, the owner of the ship – the Japanese Nagashiki shipping company – took three weeks to attend the scene.
In response to the company’s delayed arrival, Greenpeace wrote: ‘Many unanswered questions remain. Why was your vessel sailing so dangerously close to the reef? Why have you done so little since the ship ran aground? What will you do to reduce the damage to the environment, and the pain and suffering of those whose livelihoods depend on it?’
The government made a statement earlier this week saying that they were seeking compensation from the ship’s owner for clean-up costs, losses and damages, and for anyone whose livelihood was affected by the spill.
It stressed, however, the Mauritian government will not be accepting responsibility.
The ship’s owner pledged to respond to requests for compensation over damage to the marine life around Mauritius.
It comes after more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel leaked into the waters from the MV Wakashio after it hit a coral reef off the island on July 25 with 4,000 tonnes of fuel.
The ship, which has already leaked some 1,180 tonnes of fuel into the sea, began leaking oil into coral reefs, mangrove forests and protected wetlands last week in a massive blow for the paradisiacal island popular among honeymooners and other tourists.
On Wednesday, PM Pravind Jugnauth announced that all the fuel had been pumped from the reservoirs of the ship. However, there were still around 160 tonnes of oil elsewhere on the boat, which began to leak again on Friday, turning the sea around the craft black once more.
However today Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said: ‘All the fuel has been pumped from the reservoirs.’
He added: ‘It was a race against the clock, and I salute the excellent work to prevent another oil spill.
‘The weather was calm and it helped the pumping exercise, it also prevented the breakup of the boat, which is inevitable.’
The oil slick has so far spread 7.1 miles (11.5 kilometres) from Blue Bay Marine Park to the tourist island of Ile aux Cerfs on the east coast of Mauritius.
Mr Jugnauth said yesterday that while there has been no more spillage, huge cracks appeared on the ship’s body, indicating it could break apart and leak more fuel.
He said: ‘The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation.
‘We should prepare for a worst case scenario. It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart.’
Sunil Dowarkasing, environmental consultant and former member of parliament in Mauritius, said: ‘The danger of the ship breaking into two is increasing hour by hour.
‘The cracks have now reached the base of the ship and there is still a lot of fuel on the ship.
‘Two ships are headed to the site so that fuel can be pumped into them, but it is very difficult.’
‘We are expecting the worst,’ added Jean Hugues Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.
‘The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days.’
Thousands of volunteers, many smeared head-to-toe in black sludge, have turned out along the coast since Friday, stringing together miles of improvised floating barriers made of straw in a desperate attempt to hold back the sludge.
Vashist Seegobin, an ecology and conservation professor at the Mauritius University said that while the amount of fuel seeping from the boat appeared to have slowed, ‘it is still leaking, we must remain on alert.’
Activists said dead eels were floating in the water and dead starfish were marked by the sticky black liquid. Crabs and seabirds are also dying.
‘We don’t know what may happen further with the boat, it may crack more,’ said clean up volunteer Yvan Luckhun.
The inter-agency United Nations team will ‘support efforts to mitigate impact of (the) oil spill on natural resources and on (the) population’, read a statement from the UN office in Mauritius.
Japan has dispatched a six-member team, including members of its coastguard, to assist.
France has sent more than 20 tonnes of technical equipment – including 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) of oil containment booms, pumping equipment and protective gear – along with technical advisers from nearby Reunion, a French Indian Ocean island.
The spill has set back two decades worth of restoring the natural wildlife and plants in the lagoon.
Comservation efforts started after the government banned sand harvesting in the area back in 2000, said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.
The fragmentation of the oil in the sea is expected to damage corals when the heavier particles in the oil settle on them, he said, adding that the steps taken by the government to prevent the disaster are also being scrutinised.
‘There is some anger and some criticism from the civil society that the government may have taken too much time to respond,’ Tatayah said.
The ship was grounded for nearly two weeks before it started leaking oil. There was no immediate comment from Mauritian government officials.
The Wakashio passed an annual inspection in March without any problems, Japan’s ClassNK inspection body said.
Mitsui OSK Lines said in statement: ‘We will do our utmost towards resolving the situation quickly.’
It did not provide any details. The company said it has sent six employees to the site and was considering sending more, along with transport supplies.
The International Maritime Organization said it had joined efforts to tackle the spill by providing technical advice and coordinating the response.