Large cracks are believed to have appeared in the hull of a leaked tanker in Mauritius, prompting the British Prime Minister to warn it could “break in half”.
The MV Wakashio, believed to carry 4,000 tons of fuel oil, ran aground on a reef off the Indian Ocean island on July 25.
Heavy winds of 50km / h (31mph) halted cleaning activities.
Mauritius is home to world-famous coral reefs and tourism is an important part of its economy.
- Africa direct: News and views from the continent
- Mauritius national profile
Huge waves up to 5 meters high are expected in the coming hours, making it even more difficult for teams working to remove oil and prevent an ecological disaster.
Until bad weather delayed the mission, fuel was transferred ashore by helicopter and another tanker owned by the same Japanese company, Nagashiki Shipping.
The former French colony sent a military plane with pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Réunion, while Japan sent a six-member team to support the French efforts.
Since the weekend, volunteers have been gathering straw from the fields and filling sacks with sacks as a barrier against oil.
Others have made their own hose out of stockings and hair to add extra effort, and some are cleaning up the island’s beaches.
Their actions went against a government order that asked the people to let the local government clean up.
Environmental activist Ashok Subron told the AFP news agency on Sunday: “People have realized they need to capture everything. We are here to protect flora and fauna.”
Mitsui OSK Lines, the ship’s operator, said on Sunday that it had tried to place its own barricades around the ship but was unsuccessful due to rough seas.
It is thought that the bulk carrier, registered in Panama, carried around 4,000 tonnes of fuel on board when it ran aground. All crew members have been evacuated.
More than 1,000 tons of oil is believed to have leaked into the waters surrounding the island nation.
Fear for the environment
Environmentalists are concerned about the impact on the country’s ecosystems.
MV Wakashio stranded at Pointe d’Esny, a known rare wildlife sanctuary. The area also contains wetlands designated by the Ramsar Wetlands Convention as a site of international importance.
Happy Khamule of Africa Green Peace warns that “thousands of” animals are “at risk of drowning in the polluted sea, with serious consequences for the economy, food security and health. of Mauritius “.
Mauritius has a “world-important reptile population with a unique genetic makeup”, said Vikash Tataya, conservation director of the Mauriti Wildlife Foundation, which may be among the threatened species.
At a press conference, Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines “deeply apologized” for the oil spill and for “the big trouble we have caused”.
He vowed that the company would do “everything in their power to solve the problem”.
Police in Mauritius say they have been given a search warrant, allowing them to board the ship to remove items of interest such as the ship’s diary to help with the investigation. The ship’s captain will assist officers in the search.
On Friday, Prime Minister Mauritian Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of emergency and called for help.