Mauritians use home-made barriers of straw, tights and HAIR to contain oil spill


Mauritians were battling an oil spill with home-made barriers made from straw, pairs of tights and even human hair today as they race to contain an ecological catastrophe.  

More than 1,000 tonnes of oil have oozed from the bulk carrier MV Wakashio, befouling the island’s fishing waters and pristine lagoons, and experts fear it is already too late to stop the damaged tanker from breaking apart. 

Locals armed with rubber gloves and fishing boats are staging a valiant rescue operation today, as they ignore official advice to leave the clean-up operation to a government which is under pressure for failing to act for two weeks after the tanker ran aground on July 25. 

Mauritius and its 1.3million inhabitants depend on the beautiful waters for food and ecotourism, having fostered a reputation as a conservation success story and a top destination for nature lovers. 

‘People have realised that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora,’ said environmental activist Ashok Subron. 

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg today urged her millions of followers to donate to a fund for Mauritius after locals informed her of the ‘environmental emergency’ on the Indian Ocean island. 

Local volunteers make absorbent barriers of straw stuffed into fabric sacks to contain oil from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier which is leaking oil into the pristine waters of Mauritius 

A man scoops up leaked oil as volunteers ignore official advice not to contain the oil spill, which is threatening the island's beautiful waters and ecosystem which are vital to its economy

A man scoops up leaked oil as volunteers ignore official advice not to contain the oil spill, which is threatening the island’s beautiful waters and ecosystem which are vital to its economy

People wearing protective gear scoop up leaked oil from the MV Wakashio, which ran aground two weeks ago and is befouling the pristine lagoons off the coast of Mauritius

People wearing protective gear scoop up leaked oil from the MV Wakashio, which ran aground two weeks ago and is befouling the pristine lagoons off the coast of Mauritius 

An aerial photograph shows oil drifting ashore from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which ran aground after coming closer than expected to the Mauritian shore

An aerial photograph shows oil drifting ashore from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which ran aground after coming closer than expected to the Mauritian shore 

Some 2,500 tonnes of oil are thought to remain aboard the stricken vessel, which ran aground on a reef on July 25 but only started oozing from a crack in the hull in the past week. 

The slick has already begun drifting further up the coast, fanned along by strong winds and currents.

‘I think it’s already too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation will be out of control,’ Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer and environmental engineer, told AFP.

‘We’re talking about a major disaster that is progressing, and it’s getting more complicated hour by hour.’

Experts warn a further rupture could unleash a spill that will be beyond catastrophic for the fragile coastal ecosystem. 

‘We are in an advanced fracturing process. The bulk carrier does not have much time ahead of it,’ said one scientist working on the emergency effort, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Mauritian prime minister Pravind Jugnauth said response crews had managed to contain the leak for now, but were bracing for the worst. 

‘The cracks have grown. The situation is even worse,’ he told reporters late on Sunday. ‘The risk of the boat breaking in half still exists.’  

Japanese company Mitsui OSK Lines, which operates the vessel, promised on Sunday to ‘make all-out efforts to resolve the case’. 

‘We are terribly sorry,’ the shipping firm’s vice president, Akihiko Ono, told reporters in Tokyo. 

Mauritians were battling the oil spill with home-made barriers today, filling them with straw, pairs of tights and even human hair as they race to contain an ecological catastrophe

Mauritians were battling the oil spill with home-made barriers today, filling them with straw, pairs of tights and even human hair as they race to contain an ecological catastrophe

Locals armed with rubber gloves and fishing boats are staging a valiant rescue operation today, as they ignore official advice to leave the clean-up operation to a government which is under pressure over the spill

Locals armed with rubber gloves and fishing boats are staging a valiant rescue operation today, as they ignore official advice to leave the clean-up operation to a government which is under pressure over the spill 

Some of the barriers are stuffed with sugar cane leaves and kept afloat with plastic bottles, while people are also using empty oil drums to scoop up as much oil as possible from shallower waters

Some of the barriers are stuffed with sugar cane leaves and kept afloat with plastic bottles, while people are also using empty oil drums to scoop up as much oil as possible from shallower waters

Local volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach from the MV Wakashio as the spill threatens the Indian Ocean island

Local volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach from the MV Wakashio as the spill threatens the Indian Ocean island

The Wakashio left China on July 14 and was on its way to Brazil, but ran aground only a mile from the coast when it was supposed to be at least 10 miles away. The company is investigating why it went off course.  

Japan said yesterday it would send a six-member expert team including members of its coast guard to assist with what Mauritius has declared an unprecedented environmental emergency. 

France also dispatched a naval vessel, a military aircraft and technical advisers from nearby Reunion Island after Mauritius appealed for international help.

Aerial images show the enormity of the disaster, with huge stretches of crystal-clear seas around the marooned cargo ship stained a deep inky black.  

Thick muck has coated mangrove forests and unspoiled inlets up and down the coastline, causing irreparable damage and undoing years of conservation work, activists say. 

Fuel was being airlifted to the shore by helicopter today, but efforts to pump more from the hold were being thwarted by rough seas and strong winds.

The weather, which is also fanning the oil slick further up the coast, is not forecast to improve until evening. 

Hell in paradise: Oil from the stricken and crumbling tanker MV Wakashio drifts towards Mauritius's pristine coastline

Hell in paradise: Oil from the stricken and crumbling tanker MV Wakashio drifts towards Mauritius’s pristine coastline

A cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

Volunteers line the beaches, many smeared head-to-toe in black sludge, in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide

Volunteers line the beaches, many smeared head-to-toe in black sludge, in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide

This aerial view taken on August 6, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

This aerial view taken on August 6, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

Bystanders look at MV Wakashio bulk carrier that had run aground and from which oil is leaking near Blue Bay Marine Park in south-east Mauritius on August 6, 2020

Bystanders look at MV Wakashio bulk carrier that had run aground and from which oil is leaking near Blue Bay Marine Park in south-east Mauritius on August 6, 2020

Thick muck has spilled into unspoiled marine habitats and white-sand beaches, causing what experts say is irreparable damage

Thick muck has spilled into unspoiled marine habitats and white-sand beaches, causing what experts say is irreparable damage

Local media said volunteers were offering their hair to be used for makeshift barriers, which are also being assembled out of straw and nylon stockings. 

Some of the barriers are stuffed with sugar cane leaves and kept afloat with plastic bottles, while people are also using empty oil drums to scoop up as much oil as possible from shallower waters. 

‘This is no longer a threat to our environment, it is a full-blown ecological disaster, said Sunil Dowarkasing, an environmental consultant and former member of parliament. 

‘The coral reefs had begun to regenerate and the lagoon was getting back its coral gardens,’ said Dowarkasing. ‘Now this might all be killed again by the oil spill.’ 

Police are expected to take statements from the captain and crew of the Wakashio after launching an investigation. Detectives boarded the ship on Sunday and seized the log book and black box.

Pressure is mounting on the government to explain why more was not done in the two weeks since the vessel ran aground. 

‘That’s the big question,’ said Jean Hugues Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. ‘Why that ship has been sitting for long on that coral reef and nothing being done.’ 

For days, residents peered out at the precariously tilted ship as a salvage team arrived and began to work, but ocean waves kept battering the ship. Cracks in the hull were detected a few days ago. 

The French Defence Ministry leaked this photo showing oil leaking leaking from the carrier ship. There is mounting pressure on the government to explain why did not do more when the ship first ran aground

The French Defence Ministry leaked this photo showing oil leaking leaking from the carrier ship. There is mounting pressure on the government to explain why did not do more when the ship first ran aground

The oil tanker was sailing from China to Brazil when it hit coral reefs near Pointe d'Esny, an ecological jewel surrounded by idyllic beaches, colourful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife

The oil tanker was sailing from China to Brazil when it hit coral reefs near Pointe d’Esny, an ecological jewel surrounded by idyllic beaches, colourful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife

Volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach as they try to contain the oil slick. Anxious residents are making floating barriers of straw in an attempt to contain and absorb the oil

Volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach as they try to contain the oil slick. Anxious residents are making floating barriers of straw in an attempt to contain and absorb the oil

People scooping up leaked oil. Environment and fisheries ministers have been called on to resign and volunteers have ignored orders to leave the clean-up to local authorities

People scooping up leaked oil. Environment and fisheries ministers have been called on to resign and volunteers have ignored orders to leave the clean-up to local authorities

The opposition has called for the resignation of the environment and fisheries ministers, while volunteers have ignored an official order to leave the clean-up operation to local authorities. 

‘People by the thousands are coming together. No one is listening to the government anymore,’ said Ashok Subron, an environmental activist at Mahebourg, one of the worst-hit areas.

The bulker struck a reef at Pointe d’Esny, an ecological jewel surrounded by idyllic beaches, colourful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife and unique wetlands. 

The spill is a double blow for tourist operators who had hoped foreign tourists could soon return to Mauritius after the global economic standstill caused by coronavirus. 

The Indian Ocean nation has no active cases of Covid-19, and had declared wary victory after a long stretch without any new infections. 

But it also relies on its natural bounty for food and income. Seafarers in Mahebourg, where the once-spotless seas have turned a sickly brown, worried about the future.

‘Fishing is our only activity. We don’t know how we will be able to feed our families,’ one fishermen, who gave his name only as Michael, told AFP. 

A French military transport aircraft carrying pollution control equipment after landing on the Indian Ocean island on Sunday

A French military transport aircraft carrying pollution control equipment after landing on the Indian Ocean island on Sunday

A cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A still image taken from a drone video shows an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A still image taken from a drone video shows an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

The oil slick is drifting to the northwest around the Ile aux Aigrettes island and towards Mahebourg as frustration mounts over why more wasn't done to prevent the ecological disaster

The oil slick is drifting to the northwest around the Ile aux Aigrettes island and towards Mahebourg as frustration mounts over why more wasn’t done to prevent the ecological disaster 

Conservationists fear the damage could already be done to the region's fabled lagoons and inlets as images show black oil washed up on the coastline

Conservationists fear the damage could already be done to the region’s fabled lagoons and inlets as images show black oil washed up on the coastline

A helicopter hovers over the vessel. The MV Wakashio belongs to a Japanese company by is Panamanian flagged

A helicopter hovers over the vessel. The MV Wakashio belongs to a Japanese company by is Panamanian flagged 

A still image taken from a drone video shows a cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A still image taken from a drone video shows a cleanup crew working at the site of an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

Oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020

Oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020

The MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

The MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

Local volunteers make absorbent barriers of straw stuffed into fabric sacks to contain oil from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which is leaking oil as it recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, 07 August 2020

Local volunteers make absorbent barriers of straw stuffed into fabric sacks to contain oil from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which is leaking oil as it recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, 07 August 2020

Local volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which is leaking oil as it recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, 09 August 2020

Local volunteers clean up oil washing up on the beach from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship which is leaking oil as it recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius, 09 August 2020

This photo provided by the French Defense Ministry shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius,, Sunday Aug.9, 2020

This photo provided by the French Defense Ministry shows oil leaking from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius,, Sunday Aug.9, 2020

A still image taken from video shows an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

A still image taken from video shows an oil spill after the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, August 8, 2020

This aerial view taken on August 9, 2020 shows the site of containment operations for the leaked oil coming from the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

This aerial view taken on August 9, 2020 shows the site of containment operations for the leaked oil coming from the vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of south-east Mauritius

An aerial photograph shows the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship leaking oil after it ran aground on a coral reef off the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25

An aerial photograph shows the MV Wakashio, a Japanese owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship leaking oil after it ran aground on a coral reef off the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25

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