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World News

Mauritius oil clean-up team turns focus from sea to mangroves

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese disaster relief team helping to clean up a devastating oil spill off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius is focusing on mangroves, beaches and wetlands after most of the oil at sea had been collected, it said on Tuesday.

A Japanese bulk carrier struck a coral reef on July 25, spilling about 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil in what environmentalists say is the country’s worst ecological disaster, killing wildlife and damaging pristine waters.

“As most of the spilled oil at sea has been collected, we are moving into a next stage, with the focus on cleaning up the seaside and minimising the environmental impact,” Keiji Takechi, deputy team leader, told an online news conference from Mahebourg, Mauritius.

“Environmental experts who can give advice and instruction are needed now.”

Japan sent six officials, mainly oil spill experts, to Mauritius last week and plans to send another team of environment ministry officials and specialists this week.

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Team leader Junji Gomakubo said the focus was not only on the immediate impact.

“We also need to think about plans to restore the environment in the long run, like in a 10-, 20-, 30-year span,” he said.

The full impact of the spill is still unfolding, scientists say. As island residents scrambled to mop up the oil slicks and clumps, they saw dead eels and fish floating in the water, as fuel-soaked seabirds limped ashore.

The damage, scientists say, could impact Mauritius and its tourism-dependent economy for decades.

The bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, owned by Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping and chartered by Mitsui OSK Lines, broke apart on Saturday, releasing a small amount of additional oil into the sea, Takechi said.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Nick Macfie

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