Large cracks have reportedly appeared in the hull of a cargo ship leaking oil in Mauritius, prompting the prime minister to warn it may “break in two”.
The MV Wakashio, believed to have been carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, ran aground on a coral reef off the Indian Ocean island on 25 July.
High winds of 50km/h (31mph) have halted the clean-up operation.
Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of its economy.
Huge waves up to 5m in height are expected in the coming hours, posing yet more difficulties to teams working to remove the oil and avert an ecological disaster.
Until bad weather put the mission on hold, fuel was being transferred to shore by helicopter and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping.
Former colonial ruler France has sent a military aircraft with pollution control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan has sent a six-member team to assist the French efforts.
The Mauritius coast guard and several police units are also at the site in the south-east of the island.
Since the weekend, volunteers have been collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers against the oil.
Others have made their owntubes with tights and hair to add to the effort, and some have been cleaning up the island’s beaches.
Their actions went against an order from the government asking people to leave the clean-up to local authorities.
“People have realised that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora,” environmental activist Ashok Subron told AFP news agency on Sunday.
Mitsui OSK Lines, the operator of the ship, said on Sunday it had tried to place its own containment booms around the vessel but had no