Salvage teams pump all remaining fuel from grounded ship off Mauritius

Salvage crews have successfully pumped all the fuel from the tanks of a giant cargo ship which ran aground off Mauritius in order to prevent another massive oil spill into the pristine waters.

Further ecological disaster was averted today as the MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier, threatened to break apart at any moment after more than two weeks stranded on a coral reef off the island nation. 

It comes after more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel leaked into the waters from the MV Wakashio after it hit a coral reef off the island on July 25 with 4,000 tonnes of fuel. 

The ship, which has already leaked some 1,180 tonnes of fuel into the sea, began leaking oil into coral reefs, mangrove forests and protected wetlands last week in a massive blow for the paradisiacal island popular among honeymooners and other tourists.

The oil slick has so far spread 7.1 miles (11.5 kilometers) from Blue Bay Marine Park to the tourist island of Ile aux Cerfs on the east coast of Mauritius.  

Thousands of volunteers, many smeared head-to-toe in black sludge, have turned out along the coast since Friday, stringing together miles of improvised floating barriers made of straw in a desperate attempt to hold back the sludge. 

Activists said dead eels were floating in the water and dead starfish were marked by the sticky black liquid. Crabs and seabirds are also dying.

'We don't know what may happen further with the boat, it may crack more,' said clean up volunteer Yvan Luckhun.

The inter-agency United Nations team will 'support efforts to mitigate impact of (the) oil spill on natural resources and on (the) population', read a statement from the UN office in Mauritius.

Japan has dispatched a six-member team, including members of its coastguard, to assist. 

France has sent more than 20 tonnes of technical equipment - including 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) of oil containment booms, pumping equipment and protective gear - along with technical advisers from nearby Reunion, a French Indian Ocean island. 

The spill has set back two decades worth of restoring the natural wildlife and plants in the lagoon.

Comservation efforts started after the government banned sand harvesting in the area back in 2000, said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.

The fragmentation of the oil in the sea is expected to damage corals when the heavier particles in the oil settle on them, he said, adding that the steps taken by the government to prevent the disaster are also being scrutinised.

The International Maritime Organization said it had joined efforts to tackle the spill by providing technical advice and coordinating the response.