Category: Sirennet Blog

Race in Mauritius to empty oil tanker before it breaks up

By ANDREW MELDRUM for the Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Urgent efforts increased in Mauritius on Monday to empty a stranded Japanese ship of an estimated 2,500 tons of oil before the vessel breaks up and increases the contamination of the island’s once-pristine Indian Ocean coastline.

Already more than 1,000 tons of fuel has washed up on the eastern coast of Mauritius, polluting its coral reefs, protected lagoons and shoreline.

High winds and waves are pounding the MV Wakashio, which was showing signs of splitting apart and dumping its remaining cargo oil into the waters surrounding Mauritius. The bulk carrier ran aground on a coral reef two weeks ago.

This photo taken and provided by Sophie Seneque, shows oil in Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, Sunday Aug. 9, 2020, after it leaked from the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Thousands of students, environmental activists and residents of Mauritius are working around the clock to reduce the damage done to the Indian Ocean island from an oil spill after a ship ran aground on a coral reef. Shipping officials said an estimated 1 ton of oil from the Japanese ship’s cargo of 4 tons has escaped into the sea. Workers were trying to stop more oil from leaking, but with high winds and rough seas on Sunday there were reports of new cracks in the ship’s hull. (Sophie Seneque via AP)

“We are expecting the worst,” Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said.

“The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days,” Gardenne said. “So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It’s important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton.”

French experts arrived from the nearby island of Reunion and were deploying booms to try to contain any new oil spill, Gardenne said. France sent a navy ship, military aircraft and technical advisers after Mauritius appealed for international help Friday.

“The booms should be in place within hours, which we hope will help to protect the coastline from further damage,” he said. The booms will boost the improvised barriers that thousands of volunteers in Mauritius created from fabric tubes stuffed with straw and sugar cane leaves.

Amid the rough seas, efforts were also underway to get other ships close enough to pump large amounts of oil out of the MV Wakashio.

“The danger of the ship breaking into two is increasing hour by hour,” environmental consultant Sunil Dowarkasing, a former member of parliament in Mauritius, said. “The cracks have now reached the base of the ship and there is still a lot of fuel on the ship. Two ships are headed to the site so that fuel can be pumped into them, but it is very difficult.”

The ship ran aground on July 25 but work to remove the oil it was carrying only started last week when the hull cracked and started emptying the fuel into the sea, according to Dowarkasing.

The MV Wakashio’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said Monday that two shipss arrived at the scene to pump oil from the endangered vessel. “A hose connection has been successfully established … and the transfer of fuel oil is underway,” said the company in a statement. It said it is working with Mauritian authorities “to mitigate the spill. The primary focus at this time is reducing the effects of the spill and protecting the environment.”

Pressure is mounting on the government of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth to explain why it did not take immediate action to avert the environmental disaster. Jugnauth has declared the oil spill a national emergency, but some residents say he acted too late.

The opposition and activists are calling for the resignation of the environment and fisheries ministers. Volunteers have ignored a government order to leave the clean-up operation to local officials.

Japan said Sunday it would send a six-member expert team to assist.

Some Florida schools start as new coronavirus cases drop

From the Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Students began returning to some Florida university campuses on Monday as the state reported the fewest new daily cases in more than a month.

Classes for new students started Monday at Stetson University. Students moved into dormitories over the weekend at the DeLand campus as well as at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

A polling workers helps a citizen to check in during early voting for primary election at the Miami Dade College North Campus located at 11380 NW 27th Avenue in Miami on Sunday, August 9, 2020. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

In Orange County, public school students started the school year on Monday with two-weeks of online learning. At the end of the month, they will get to choose between continuing with the virtual learning or going to in-person classes.

Meanwhile, Florida reported 4,155 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the smallest daily caseload increase since the end of June.

The Sunshine State now has 536,961 total cases, and 8,408 virus-related deaths. That marked an increase of more than 90 deaths reported in Florida on Monday.

Gas explosion levels 3 Baltimore homes; 1 dead, 1 trapped

By JULIO CORTEZ for the Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — A “major gas explosion” completely destroyed three row houses in Baltimore on Monday, killing a woman, injuring several other people and trapping at least one person in the wreckage, firefighters said.

This photo provided by WJLA-TV shows the scene of an explosion in Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (WJLA-TV via AP)

At least three dozen firefighters converged on the disaster scene, where the natural gas explosion reduced to the homes to piles of rubble and pieces of debris. A fourth house in the row was partly destroyed, and the neighborhood was strewn with glass from shattered windows.

Two of the homes’ occupants were taken to hospitals in serious condition, while an adult woman was pronounced dead at the scene, the fire department tweeted.

The firefighters’ union tweeted that special rescue operation units were searching for other people.

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Company received an “initial call” from the fire department at 9:54 a.m. on Monday and was working to turn off the gas to buildings in the immediate area, its spokeswoman Linda Foy said.

“We are on the scene and working closely with the fire department to make the situation safe,” she said, without answering any questions from reporters. “Once the gas is off, we can begin to safely assess the situation, including inspections of BGE equipment.”

Moses Glover was inside his nearby home when he heard a boom and looked outside his window. Suddenly, a second blast knocked him off his feet, he told The Baltimore Sun.

“It knocked me across the bed,” said Glover, 77. “I came downstairs and saw all of the front of the houses across the street, they were on the ground. I had a picture window downstairs, the glass is in the chair now.”

Moses struggled to steady his breathing and said he was “shook up” by the experience.

California eyes 11 police reforms after George Floyd’s death

By DON THOMPSON for the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are pushing to enact nearly a dozen policing reform laws driven by nationwide outrage and protests after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May. Lawmakers have until Aug. 31 to approve and send legislation to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

FILE – In this May 30, 2020, file photo, a police officer prepares to fire rubber bullets during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles. California lawmakers are pushing to enact nearly a dozen policing reform laws driven by nationwide outrage and protests after Floyd’s death in May. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The bills include:

CHOKEHOLDS

AB1196 by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, would bar law enforcement agencies from using carotid restraints, chokeholds or similar techniques.

The California Police Chiefs Association initially called for banning the carotid and chokeholds, but withdrew its support after it said Gipson broadened his bill “to include additional restrictions that are vague and subjective.”

DUTY TO INTERCEDE

AB1022 by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would require law enforcement officers to immediately intercede and report what they believe to be the use of excessive force.

Officers’ careers would end if they are found to have used excessive force resulting in serious injury or death, or failed to stop the overuse of force by another officer. Officers who don’t intercede could be criminally charged as accessories to any crimes committed by those who use excessive force.

Associations representing police officers say a new state law already gives officers a duty to intercede. They say more training and strong policies are better than criminalizing officers who may only have passing involvement.

VICTIMS’ COMPENSATION

AB767 by Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord, would allow even criminal suspects and their survivors to apply for victims’ compensation if they were injured or killed by police use of excessive force. The first-in-the-nation proposal supported by State Treasurer Betty Yee, who sits on the California Victim Compensation Board, would also let the board consider documents beyond police reports that proponents said can be biased.

Advocates include the sisters of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, who was killed June 2 in Vallejo, near San Francisco, when police suspected him of stealing from a pharmacy on the night of a national protests over Floyd’s death. Police say what they thought was a gun turned out to be a hammer.

RUBBER BULLETS

AB66 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would respond to perceived police overreactions during recent protests by limiting the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other projectiles against demonstrators.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department says barring tear gas risks escalating physical confrontations between officers and demonstrators.

JOURNALISTS

SB629 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, would protect the right of journalists to cover protests without interference from police.

MILITARY UNIFORMS

SB480 would bar law enforcement officials from wearing military-style uniforms. Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, said that can make it difficult for civilians to distinguish officers from members of the National Guard. He said it can also sow fear and confusion, as when federal officers wore camouflage while confronting protesters in Portland, Oregon.

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIONS

AB1506 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would create a new division within the state Department of Justice that, if requested by a local law enforcement agency, would investigate an officer-involved shooting or other use of force that kills a civilian. The department could also prosecute any officer it found had violated state law.

SHERIFFS OVERSIGHT

AB1185, also by McCarty, would let county supervisors name inspectors general to help oversee independently elected county sheriffs.

POLICE RECORDS

SB776 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would expand on a 2019 law that lifted some of the nation’s most secretive police records by requiring public access to disciplinary records involving investigations into officer shootings, use-of-force incidents and incidents involving officer misconduct.

It would add records of discipline against officers accused of racist or discriminatory actions, or those who have a history of wrongful arrests or searches, among others. Investigations would be completed even if officers resign. Records fees would be limited and fines imposed on agencies that don’t comply.

Numerous law enforcement organizations say the bill would remove a requirement that only sustained complaints be made public.

DECERTIFYING OFFICERS

SB731 by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would allow the state Department of Justice to revoke the certification of officers if they are fired for misconduct or convicted of certain crimes, to prevent them from getting new law enforcement jobs elsewhere.

The California Police Chiefs Association, which initially supported the idea, now says the legislation “is overly complex” and would remove immunity protections for all public employees.

JUVENILE INTERROGATIONS

SB203, also by Bradford, would would bar those who are 17 years old or younger from being questioned by police or waiving their rights until they have a chance to consult with an attorney. California currently applies those restrictions to youths 15 years or younger.

Oregon trooper injured, 24 arrested in Portland protests

By MARTHA BELLISLE and GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Protesters in Portland, Oregon, defied police orders to disperse and threw rocks, frozen or hard-boiled eggs and commercial-grade fireworks at officers as unrest in the Northwest city continued early Saturday.

An Oregon State Police Trooper was struck in the head by a large rock and suffered a head injury, police said in a release. The trooper’s condition was not immediately known.

A Portland police officer shoves a protester as police try to disperse the crowd in front of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office early in the morning on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020 in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

Some demonstrators filled pool noodles with nails and placed them in the road, causing extensive damage to a patrol vehicle, police said. Oregon State Police worked with Portland officers to clear the protesters.

“Officers are having rocks and chunks of concrete thrown at them,” police said on Twitter. “Individuals in the crowd are shining lasers trying to blind officers.”

Since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, protests over racial injustice and police brutality have occurred nightly for 70 days.

Portland police declared an unlawful assembly Friday night at the Penumbra Kelly public safety building, ordering everyone in the area to leave. Authorities had previously warned people not to trespass on the property.

Protesters remained for several hours before officers began to rush the crowd away from the building using crowd-control munitions early Saturday. Several people were arrested, police said.

“As arrests were made, certain crowd members began throwing rocks towards officers,” police said in a statement. “As this criminal activity occurred, the crowd also blocked all lanes of traffic on East Burnside Street, not allowing vehicles to pass by. Several people in this group wore helmets and gas masks as well as carried shields.”

Police said Saturday that they arrested 24 people during the overnight demonstration. Most of those arrested were from Portland, while one man was from Oakland, California, and another was Tulsa, Oklahoma. Most were in their 20s or 30s.

The police also said officers are investigating a report on social media that someone threw explosive devices at protesters early Saturday morning in Laurelhurst Park. There are no reports that anyone was injured, the police said.

The charges included assault on an officer, interfering with an officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Most of the crowd left the area by about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, police said.

Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said this week the violent protesters are also serving as political “props” for President Donald Trump in a divisive election season where the president is hammering on a law-and-order message. Trump has tried to portray the protesters as “sick and dangerous anarchists” running wild in the city’s streets.

The chaos that started Thursday night lasted into Friday morning in a residential neighborhood about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from downtown. The demonstrations this week had been noticeably smaller than the crowds of thousands who turned out nightly for about two weeks in July to protest the presence of U.S. agents sent by the Trump administration to protect a federal courthouse that had become a target of nightly violence.

This week’s clashes have, however, amped up tensions after an agreement last week between state and federal officials seemed to offer a brief reprieve.

The deal brokered by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown called for agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pull back from their defense of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse starting July 30.

Early Friday, as peaceful demonstrations proceeded elsewhere in the city, a group of people gathered at a park in eastern Portland and marched to the local police precinct, where authorities say they spray-painted the building, popped the tires of police cars, splashed paint on the walls, vandalized security cameras and set a fire in a barrel outside the building. One officer was severely injured by a rock, police said, but no additional details were provided.

Tear gas was used by police on protesters Wednesday for the first time since the U.S. agents pulled back their presence in the city. But officers did not use it Thursday despite declaring the demonstration an unlawful assembly.

Portland police have arrested more than 400 people at protests since late May. U.S. agents arrested at least an additional 94 people during protests at the federal courthouse in July.

Riot declared as fire burns in Portland police union offices

By MARTHA BELLISLE and GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A fire inside a police union building led authorities in Portland, Oregon, to declare a riot and force protesters away from the offices as violent demonstrations continue in the city that had hoped for calm after federal agents withdrew more than a week ago.

Three officers were hurt, including two who were taken to a hospital, during efforts to clear a crowd of several hundred people outside the Portland Police Association building late Saturday, police said in a statement. The two hospitalized officers have since been released.

Portland police officers walk through the Laurelhurst neighborhood after dispersing protesters from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office early in the morning on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020 in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

Rallies had been held earlier in the afternoon and evening throughout the city, including at Peninsula, Laurelhurst and Berrydale parks, local media reported.

Police said a group from Peninsula Park marched to the Portland Police Association building, which is located about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of the federal courthouse that had been the target of nightly violence earlier this summer. The Portland Police Association is a labor union that represents members of the Portland Police Bureau.

A group of demonstrators broke into the building, set the fire and were adding to it when officers made the riot declaration just after 11:30 p.m., police said. Video shot by a journalist, and surveillance video from inside the building obtained by the police department, shows smoke and flames arising from inside the building.

Officers formed a line and used flash bangs and smoke canisters to force the protest several blocks away. Demonstrators congregated at Kenton Park, where they were again ordered to disperse. Most of the crowd had left by 2 a.m., police stated.

The gatherings this week had been noticeably smaller than the crowds of thousands who turned out nightly for about two weeks in July to protest the presence of U.S. agents sent by the Trump administration to protect the federal courthouse downtown.

This week’s clashes have, however, amped up tensions after an agreement between state and federal officials seemed to offer a brief reprieve.

Police arrested 24 people during demonstrations overnight Friday after they said people defied orders to disperse and threw rocks, frozen or hard-boiled eggs and commercial-grade fireworks at officers. An unlawful assembly was declared outside the Penumbra Kelly public safety building.

Most of those arrested were from Portland, while one man was from Oakland, California, and another was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Most were in their 20s or 30s. The charges included assault on an officer, interfering with an officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

An Oregon State Police trooper was struck in the head by a large rock and suffered a head injury, police said. The trooper’s condition was not immediately known.

Some demonstrators filled pool noodles with nails and placed them in the road, causing extensive damage to a patrol vehicle, police said. Oregon State Police worked with Portland officers to clear the protesters.

Since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, protests over racial injustice and police brutality have occurred nightly for more than 70 days.

Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said violent protesters are also serving as political “props” for President Donald Trump in a divisive election season where the president is hammering on a law-and-order message. Trump has called the protesters as “sick and dangerous anarchists” running wild in the city’s streets.

Tear gas was used by police on protesters Wednesday for the first time since the U.S. agents pulled back their presence in the city. But officers did not use it Thursday or Friday despite declaring the demonstrations unlawful assemblies. Police said tear gas wasn’t used Saturday.

___

Bellisle reported from Seattle.

Portland protests persist as some bring flashes of violence

By GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — More protests are expected in Portland, Oregon, throughout the weekend following violent demonstrations this week that have brought more unrest to the Northwest city.

Since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis protests have occurred nightly for 70 days. Friday night, Portland police declared an unlawful assembly at the Penumbra Kelly public safety building, ordering everyone in the area to leave. Authorities had previously warned people not to trespass on the property.

Demonstrators gathered at Floyd Light City Park on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 in Portland, Ore. Protests turned violent again even after the mayor pleaded with demonstrators to stay off the streets. Police say an officer suffered what was described as a severe injury after being hit with a rock late Thursday. (Mark Graves /The Oregonian via AP)

Early Friday morning about 200 people, some wielding homemade shields, clashed with police for the third consecutive night as two other Black Lives Matter rallies proceeded peacefully elsewhere.

Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said this week the violent protesters are also serving as political “props” for President Donald Trump in a divisive election season where the president is hammering on a law-and-order message. Trump has tried to portray the protesters as “sick and dangerous anarchists” running wild in the city’s streets.

The chaos that started Thursday night and lasted into Friday morning in a residential neighborhood about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from downtown. The demonstrations this week had been noticeably smaller than the crowds of thousands who turned out nightly for about two weeks in July to protest the presence of U.S. agents sent by the Trump administration to protect a federal courthouse that had become a target of nightly violence.

This week’s clashes have, however, amped up tensions after an agreement last week between state and federal officials seemed to offer a brief reprieve.

The deal brokered by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown called for agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pull back from their defense of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse starting July 30.

Early Friday, as peaceful demonstrations proceeded elsewhere in the city, a group of people gathered at a park in eastern Portland and marched to the local police precinct, where authorities say they spray-painted the building, popped the tires of police cars, splashed paint on the walls, vandalized security cameras and set a fire in a barrel outside the building. One officer was severely injured by a rock, police said, but no additional details were provided.

Tear gas was used by police on protesters Wednesday for the first time since the U.S. agents pulled back their presence in the city, but officers did not use it Thursday despite declaring the demonstration an unlawful assembly.

Portland police have arrested more than 400 people at protests since late May. U.S. agents arrested at least an additional 94 people during protests at the federal courthouse in July.

Indian plane skids off hilltop runway, cracks, killing 18

By SUBRAMONEY IYER and SHEIKH SAALIQ for the Associated Press

KOCHI, India (AP) — The plane swayed violently as it approached a hilltop runway drenched in monsoon rain, and moments later the special return flight for Indians stranded abroad by the pandemic skidded off, nosedived and cracked in two, leaving 18 dead and more than 120 injured.

Officials stand on the debris of the Air India Express flight that skidded off a runway while landing at the airport in Kozhikode, Kerala state, India, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. The special evacuation flight bringing people home to India who had been trapped abroad because of the coronavirus skidded off the runway and split in two while landing in heavy rain killing more than a dozen people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/C.K.Thanseer)

Among the injured on Friday night, at least 15 were in critical condition, said Abdul Karim, a senior police officer in southern Kerala state. The dead included both pilots of the Air India Express flight, the airline said in a statement, adding that the four cabin crew were safe.

The 2-year-old Boeing 737-800 flew from Dubai to Kozhikode, also called Calicut, in Kerala. There were 174 adult passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew on board.

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Renjith Panangad, a plumber who was returning home for the first time in three years after losing his job at a construction company in Dubai, said the plane swayed before the crash and everything went dark.

He said he followed other passengers who crawled their way out of the fuselage through the emergency door.

“A lot of passengers were bleeding,” said Panangad, who escaped without major injuries. “I still can’t comprehend what happened. As I am trying to recall what happened, my body is shivering.”

He said the pilot made a regular announcement before landing, and moments after the plane hit the runway, it nosedived.

“There was a big noise during the impact and people started screaming,” he said.

Kozhikode’s 2,850-meter (9,350-foot) runway is on a flat hilltop with deep gorges on either side ending in a 34-meter (112-foot) drop.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight “overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down” the slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.

As the rain stopped Saturday morning, searchers recovered a flight data recorder as the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau started work on the wreckage. Air India Express said its teams also reached Calicut to support and assist families of the victims.

A similar tragedy was narrowly avoided at the same airport a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a tail strike upon landing. None of the 180 passengers of that flight was injured.

Questions dogging investigators would include not only the aircraft, weather and pilots but also the runway itself. Its end safety area was expanded in 2018 to accommodate wide-body aircraft.

The runway end safety area meets United Nations international civil aviation requirements, but the U.N. agency recommends a buffer that is 150 meters (492 feet) longer than that at Kozhikode airport, according to Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network online database.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the country’s aviation regulator had sought an explanation from the director of the Kozhikode airport in 2019 on finding “various critical safety lapses,” which included cracks on the runway, water stagnation and excessive rubber deposits.

Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.

“Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash,” Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government’s investigation.

Kerala state Health Minister KK Shailaja asked local residents who joined the rescue effort to go into quarantine as a precautionary measure. The survivors were being tested for the virus, officials said.

The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian government’s special repatriation mission to bring Indian citizens back to the country, officials said. All of the passengers were returning from the Gulf region, authorities said. Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode,” and that he had spoken to Kerala’s top elected official.

Air India Express is a subsidiary of Air India.

The worst air disaster in India was on Nov. 12, 1996, when a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight collided midair with a Kazakhastan Airlines Flight near Charki Dadri in Haryana state, killing all 349 on board the two planes.

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Sheikh Saaliq reported from New Delhi.

Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

By CARA ANNA for the Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared a “state of environmental emergency” late Friday after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tons of fuel.

In this satellite image provided by 2020 Maxar Technologies on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, an aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. The prime minister of Mauritius says the government is appealing to France for help with a brewing environmental disaster after a ship that ran aground almost two weeks ago off the Indian Ocean island nation began leaking oil. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Friday that the leak “represents a danger for Mauritius” and that his country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships. ( 2020 Maxar Technologies. via AP)

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development as satellite images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive.”

Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and cracks have appeared in its hull.

Jugnauth earlier in the day said his government was appealing to France for help, saying the spill “represents a danger” for the country of some 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have appealed for help from France and President Emmanuel Macron,” he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.”

Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously. “Sea rough beyond the reefs with swells. Ventures in the open seas are not advised,” according to the Mauritius Meteorological Services.

Video posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore as people murmured and peered at the ship in the distance. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.

The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius’s “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.

“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other areas near the leaking ship “very sensitive.”

After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters Thursday. Some 400 sea booms have been deployed in an effort to contain the spill.

Government statements this week said the ship ran aground July 25 and the National Coast Guard received no distress call. The ship’s owners were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd.

A police inquiry has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, a government statement said.

Tons of diesel and oil are now leaking into the water, environmental group Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy manager Happy Khambule said in a statement.

“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health,” Khambule said.

A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan but equipment on hand was “adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tonnes.”

In case of major spills, it said, assistance could be obtained from other Indian Ocean countries or from international oil spill response organizations.

3 men rescued from Pacific island after writing SOS in sand

By NICK PERRY for the Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after writing a giant SOS sign in the sand that was spotted from above, authorities say.

The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days when their distress signal was spotted Sunday on uninhabited Pikelot Island by searchers on Australian and U.S. aircraft, the Australian defense department said Monday.

In this photo provided by the Australian Defence Force, an Australian Army helicopter lands on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, where three men were found, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, safe and healthy after missing for three days. The men were missing in the Micronesia archipelago east of the Philippines for nearly three days when their “SOS” sign was spotted by searchers on Australian and U.S. aircraft, the Australian defense department said. (Australian Defence Force via AP)

The men had apparently set out from Pulawat atoll in a 7-meter (23-foot) boat on July 30 and had intended to travel about 43 kilometers (27 miles) to Pulap atoll when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, the department said.

Searchers in Guam asked for Australian help. The military ship, Canberra, which was returning to Australia from exercises in Hawaii, diverted to the area and joined forces with U.S. searchers from Guam.

The men were found about 190 kilometers (118 miles) from where they had set out.

“I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world,” said the Canberra’s commanding officer, Capt. Terry Morrison, in a statement.

The men were found in good condition, and an Australian military helicopter was able to land on the beach and give them food and water. A Micronesian patrol vessel was due to pick them up.

SOS is an internationally recognized distress signal that originates from Morse code.