Nearly a month after a ship struck a coral reef off the island nation of Mauritius, causing a catastrophic oil spill, tugboats lugged it out to sea where, according to news reports, it is now going to be sunk, despite opposition from environmentalists.
On July 25, the Japanese-owned vessel called the MV Wakashio hit a coral reef 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) off the country's southeast coast, near Pointe d'Esny. The ship was en route from China to Brazil, carrying 4,290 tons (3,894 metric tons) of low-sulfur fuel oil, 228 tons (207 metric tons) of diesel and 99 tons (90 metric tons) of lubricant oil, according to a previous Live Science report.
After the crash, the crew was safely evacuated, but early efforts to stabilize the ship and pump out the oil were unsuccessful, Live Science previously reported. Eventually, a new crack appeared in the vessel's hull and oil started spilling into the pristine waters around Mauritius, which lies to the east of Madagascar.
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On Aug. 15, the vessel split into two, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Though the company that owns the vessel said most of the oil on board was pumped out prior to that, some 1,202 to 2,204 tons (1,000 to 2,000 metric tons) of fuel oil is thought to have already spilled in the surrounding waters, endangering coral, fish and other marine life and threatening the economy, food security and health of the country, according to the United Nations.
On Thursday (Aug. 20), two tugboats pulled the larger, front part of the broken ship 15 kilometers (9 miles) out in the Indian Ocean where the plan is to now sink it to a depth of 10,433 feet (3,180 meters), according to The Guardian.
But environmentalists immediately criticized this decision.
"Sinking this vessel would risk biodiversity and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Réunion," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, said in a statement on Aug.19. "More pollution further risks their tourist-based economy and fish-based food security."
It's still not clear how the accident happened, with one theory involving some sort of accident that happened while a birthday was being celebrated on the ship and another being that the ship swung close to shore to pick up WiFi signals and crashed, according to the BBC. The ship's captain, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, was arrested and charged with endangering safe navigation, according to the BBC.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.