The grounded Japanese ship thatleaked tons of oil near protected coral reefs off the coast of Mauritius has split apart, with remaining fuel spreading out into the Indian Ocean, officials said Saturday.
The condition of the MV Wakashio was deteriorating early on Saturday and it split by the afternoon, according to the Mauritius National Crisis Committee. Oil barriers were in place and a skimmer ship was nearby.
"At around 4:30 p.m., a major detachment of the vessel's forward section was observed," the committee said in a statement. "On the basis of the experts' advice, the towing plan is being implemented."
Photos posted on social media showed the ship broken into two pieces.
"Since this morning, security has been reinforced all along the shoreline. It's a full state of emergency," independent environmental consultant Sunil Korwarkasing told the DPA news agency.
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Breaking onto reefs
Director of maritime affairs Alain Donat told local newspaper Le Mauricien that the ship split on the reefs of Pointe d'Esny.
"The front part is being towed very slowly," Donat was quoted as saying, adding that this part will be sunk at least 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) off Mauritius and that the rear section will be left on the breakers for the time being.
Le Mauricien reported that water purification operations also began in the lagoons on Saturday morning.
Oil residue — which could not be pumped from the bilges — had started to leak from the bulk carrier on Friday.
The Japanese-owned but Panamanian-flagged ship was on its way to Brazil from China carrying close to 4,000 tons of fuel when it struck the reef on Mauritius' southeast coast on July 25.
Its hull began to crack after days of pounding waves. Some 1,000 tons of fuel began to leak on August 6.
The incident triggered an environmental emergency, with authorities racing to contain the spill. India has sent a team of specialists to help. "The part has drifted, so there is a lot of effort to try to get it to the high sea," independent environmental consultant Sunil Korwarkasing told dpa news agency.
Helicopters have been flying between the ship and the coast since early Saturday to siphon off the remaining fuel from the vessel, said Korwarkasing.
Environmental groups warned that the damage to coral reefs and coastal areas could be irreversible and are calling on the Mauritius government to explain why immediate action wasn't taken.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth blamed bad weather for the slow response.
The Mauritius government is also seeking compensation from Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd, one of the listed owners of the ship.
The Japanese company said it is investigating why its ship, which was meant to stay at least 10 miles from shore, went off course. Nagashiki has sent a team of experts to assist in cleaning up the damage.
Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Saturday additional specialists and a team of officials from the ministry will be dispatched to Mauritius to assess the damage.
The catastrophic oil leak has already caused unprecedented damage to the island's lagoons, marine habitats and once-pristine beaches.
Mauritius — popular for its marine ecology, clear waters and white beaches — is largely dependent on tourism.
mvb/mm (AP, Reuters, dpa)