Ship runs aground off Mauritius with fuel aboard

Mauritius deployed its coastguard and armed forces on Monday after a Chinese-flagged trawler containing 130 tonnes of oil ran aground off the Indian Ocean archipelago nation. It is the second shipwreck in less than a year off Mauritius, after a tanker struck a reef in July and leaked 1,000 tonnes of fuel in the country’s worst environmental disaster in history.

Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo said the captain of the Lurong Yuan Yu, a trawler flying the Chinese flag, issued distress calls late Sunday afternoon.

Residents said flares were sent up by the fishing vessel, which was stranded off Pointe-aux-Sables in the northwest of the main island not far from the capital Port Louis.

“The first measure is to pump all the oil on board,” Minister Maudhoo told reporters late Sunday, adding the ship contained no cargo but 130 tonnes of fuel oil and five tonnes of lubricants.

Soldiers and the coastguard were sent to the coast, where floating containment booms were deployed in the event of needing to stop an oil slick from the reaching the shore.

On July 25, the Japanese-owned bulk carrier MV Wakashio crashed off Mauritius with 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard but did not begin leaking oil for more than a week.

By the time the government issued an urgent appeal for international help the slick had reached the shore, coating mangrove forests, fragile ecosystems and coral reefs.

An army of volunteers scrubbed the coastline but the stricken ship kept leaking. More than 1,000 tonnes of oil eventually spilled into the pristine waters that have long been a major draw for honeymooners, and contain precious mangroves and coral reefs. 

The disaster was unprecedented for Mauritius, an archipelago of 1.3 million people where many derive their livelihood from tourism and fishing, and tens of thousands marched in protest over the government’s handling of the crisis.