Mauritians are cutting off their hair and stuffing it into fabric tubes in a desperate attempt to stop a tide of oil washing out of a huge shipwreck onto their pristine Indian Ocean beaches.
Photos show locals clad in masks and gloves, covered in black sludge carrying buckets of oil away from the shore and teams of volunteers weaving cloth bags and stuffing them full of straw and hair, which they hope will soak up some of the oil.
Thousands of volunteers and salvage crews are taking part in the effort and working around the clock before the marooned container which is carrying thousands of tonnes of fuel splits in two.
Romina Tello, the founder of eco-tourism agency Mauritius Conscious, told Reuters News Agency that Mauritians were making booms to float on the sea out of sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and hair that people were voluntarily cutting off. “Hair absorbs oil but not water,” Ms Tello said. “There’s been a big campaign around the island to get the hair.”
It is understood that many hairdressers across the country are also taking part in the effort.
The Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashias was en route from China to Brazil when it ran aground near Pointe d’Esny on the island nation’s southeastern coast on 25 July.
The 1,000ft vessel was carrying some 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel.
At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked out of the ship causing catastrophic damage to the area which is filled with colourful reefs, protected wetlands and sanctuaries for rare wildlife.
So far, about 500 tonnes have been salvaged. But worse could be in store. An estimated 2,500 tonnes of oil remain on the ship and on Sunday, Mauritian Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth said that cracks in the ship are growing and the vessel may soon break in two.
“I think it is already too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation will be out of control,” said Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an environmental engineer.
Mitsui OSK Lines, the company which operates the vessel, apologised for the damage and said it would “make all-out efforts to resolve the case”.
The company said it had tried to place its own containment booms around the vessel but had not been successful because of rough seas.
The police have launched an official investigation and are expected to take statements from the captain and crew of the ship.
Aerial images show the scale of the disaster, with stretches of clear seas stained black by sludge seeping out of a stranded carrier. Mauritius and its 1.3 million people depend on the sea for food and eco-tourism and it has been hailed as a conservation success story.