The Mauritius oil spill, predicted to be one of the worst ecological disasters in the island nation’s history, worsened this weekend after the stranded ship responsible for the mess broke in two.
The Japanese oil tanker ran aground off the coast of Mauritius in late July and has since leaked some 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Last week, the country declared a “state of environmental emergency,” as the spill threatens thousands of local marine life species and pollutes its world-renowned coral reefs and beaches, lynchpins of its largely tourism-based economy.
On Saturday, “a major detachment of the vessel’s forward section was observed,” according to a press statement from the Mauritius National Crisis Committee. Most of the 4,000 metric tons of fuel in the ship’s reservoir had already been pumped up over the course of the week, Mauritian officials told the local newspaper Le Mauricien, but roughly 26 metric tons remained onboard in the engine room. Before it broke in two, the ship also leaked some residual oil into the ocean on Friday, Mauritius Marine Conservation Society President Jacqueline Sauzier told Reuters.
Battling rough seas and 11-foot (3.5 meter) waves, salvage teams were unable to continuing pumping the remaining oil out, and bad weather is predicted to stall their efforts for at least the next five days, Le Mauricien reported. The next step for the clean-up crew is to tow the broken front portion of the ship out to sea where it’ll be sunk.
Authorities deployed several more booms on Saturday to help drain the oil. Residents of the small nation have been scrambling to contain the spill using whatever they can, including making booms from unconventional material like sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles, and even human hair. Yes, you read that right. Human hair, since it absorbs oil and not water, can be sewn into nets to help soak up the spill, and hairdressers nationwide are reportedly giving free haircuts in a desperate campaign to help the disaster relief effort. Some international hair donations are also being shipped in, a show of mutual aid that’s equal parts inspiring and unsettling at the same time.
Mauritius’ former colonizer ruler, France, has also sent aid and announced on Sunday that it was dispatching three experts this week to assist in towing the wreck, according to Le Mauricien. It’ll likely be months before the ship’s fully removed, and scientists predict the fallout on Mauritius’ economy and local marine ecosystems could last decades.
So while the ship’s operator, the Mitsui OSK Line, has issued an apology, it’s becoming painfully clear that a simple “my bad” won’t cut it, and it’s almost certain Mauritius will (rightfully) seek compensation for having to clean up their mess.