Residents and environmental workers in Mauritius race to contain oil spill and protect coastline

Environmental activists and residents of Mauritius worked to try to reduce the damage from an oil spill after a ship ran aground on a coral reef.

The Indian Ocean island’s prime minister declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help.

One ton of oil from the Japanese ship’s four tons has leaked into the sea, according to officials.

Wildlife workers carried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants from an island near the spill, Ile aux Aigrettes, to the mainland.

“This is no longer a threat to our environment, it is a full-blown ecological disaster that has affected one of the most environmentally important parts of Mauritius, the Mahebourg Lagoon,” Sunil Dowarkasing, an environmental consultant and former member of parliament, told the AP.

“The people of Mauritius, thousands and thousands, have come out to try to prevent as much damage as possible,” said Dowarkasing, who spoke from the relief efforts at Bois des Amourettes by the lagoon.

A French military transport aircraft was carrying pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with additional material planned to sail from the nearby French island of Reunion.

Some asked why the ship was sitting for so long on a coral reef. It ran aground on July 25.

In Japan, officials of the company that owns the ship, Nagashiki Shipping, and the ship’s operator, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, apologized Sunday for the oil leak.

“First of all, we are doing the utmost to prevent further oil spill and to remove it from the sea,” said Akihiko Ono, vice president of Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. “We are aware of a potential major impact on the tourism in the area and we take it very seriously.”

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