Japan will send a disaster relief team to Mauritius in response to fuel leakage from a stranded Japanese-owned freighter that ran aground off the Indian Ocean island nation, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
The six-member expert team will leave Japan on Monday and start relief activities, such as oil removal upon arrival, the ministry said in a statement.
The team consists of four experts from the Japan Coast Guard and one official each from the Foreign Ministry and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, according to government officials.
More than 1,000 tons of fuel oil had leaked from the stranded freighter, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., the operator of the vessel, said Sunday.
The company’s executive vice president, Akihiko Ono, apologized for the incident at a news conference in Tokyo, after the island nation declared a state of environmental emergency over the incident on Friday.
“We’re terribly sorry,” Ono said as he vowed to make an all-out effort to resolve the issue.
As of Sunday, a massive amount of heavy oil had washed ashore along the coast of Mauritius, sparking concerns about damage to the country’s tourism industry and the impact the leak will have on endangered animals such as indigenous wild birds and sea turtles.
As local residents strive to remove leaked fuel from the sea, the government of Mauritius has reached out to France and the United Nations for assistance in coping with the disaster.
The Panama-flagged bulk carrier Wakashio ran aground at 7:25 p.m. on July 25 local time, according to Nagashiki Shipping Co., the owner of the ship.
Leakage of fuel oil began Thursday morning when a fuel tank suffered a crack, the Okayama Prefecture-based company said.
The vessel, which was en route to South America from China via Singapore, was carrying a total of 3,800 tons of fuel oil when it ran aground near Pointe d’Esny, an area designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, which is close to Blue Bay Marine Park, another Ramsar site.
The approximately 300-meter-long tanker, built in 2007, was carrying no cargo at the time. All 20 members of the multinational crew evacuated safely and are unharmed.
Mauritius, with a population of around 1.3 million, is located around 2,000 kilometers east of Mozambique off the southeast coast of Africa.