The bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground off the Indian Ocean island two weeks ago and is polluting the turquoise waters at Blue Bay marine park

Mauritius has appealed to France for help, while Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping said it would do what it can to pump out the remaining oil on the ship

The prime minister of Mauritius has declared a state of environmental emergency and appealed to France for urgent assistance as oil from a grounded cargo ship spilled unabated into the island nation’s protected waters.

Rough seas have hampered efforts to stop fuel leaking from the bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which ran aground two weeks ago, and is polluting pristine waters in an ecologically critical marine area off the southeast coast.

“A state of environmental emergency has been declared,” Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth posted on his Twitter account late on Friday.

The tanker, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, was carrying 3,800 tonnes of fuel when it struck a reef at Pointe d’Esny, an internationally-listed conservation site near the turquoise waters of the Blue Bay marine park.

The environment ministry announced this week that oil had begun seeping from the hull, as volunteers rushed to the coast to prepare for the worst.

Soon, oil slicked the coral reefs, lagoons and white-sand shores upon which Mauritius has built its reputation as a green tourism destination. Aerial images showed the scale of the damage, with huge stretches of azure seas stained inky black by the spill.

“We deeply apologise to people in Mauritius and those concerned for causing them so much trouble,” shipowners Nagashiki Shipping said in a statement on Saturday.

“To protect the environment, we will do our utmost to recover the leaked oil, pump out the oil that remains in the ship and remove the ship safely while coordinating with Mauritius and relevant Japanese agencies.”

A spokesman at Mitsui OSK Lines, which operates the vessel, said fuel was being airlifted by helicopter to shore but poor weather was complicating matters.

“We tried to place a containment boom near the ship but it’s not working well due to high waves,” the spokesman said in Tokyo on Saturday. Some of the fuel was in separate tanks and may not be at risk of leaking, he added.

Jugnauth, after touring the disaster site, expressed fears the crisis could worsen with bad weather forecast over the weekend, and made an urgent appeal for help. “We don’t know what will happen to the boat,” he said.

“The sinking of the Wakashio represents a danger for Mauritius. Our country does not have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have requested the help of France” and its president, Emmanuel Macron.

In a statement on Saturday, the French embassy in Mauritius said a military aircraft from the nearby French Indian Ocean island of Reunion would make two rotations over the disaster area with pollution control equipment. Two experts would also be aboard, the statement added.

Ecologists fear the ship could further break up, causing an even greater leak and inflict potentially catastrophic damage on the island nation’s coastline. Greenpeace said the spill from the bulk carrier would have devastating consequences.

Mauritius depends crucially on its seas for food and for tourism, boasting some of the finest coral reefs in the world.

Nagashiki Shipping reported no injuries among its 20 crew, all of whom were evacuated safely and are now in quarantine on the island, local media reported. The crew members hail from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The unladen freighter was en route to Brazil from Singapore when it ran aground off the island, which lies off the eastern African coast.

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