At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked into the Indian Ocean, threatening the island’s tourism industry.
A Japanese ship that ran aground near the coast of Mauritius has stopped leaking oil, the country’s prime minister has said.
Pravind Jugnauth’s office said that the hull of the damaged MV Wakashio, which hit a reef near the island last month, is cracking up and will break up “eventually”.
But it said the situation was “very serious” as the bulk carrier still has 2,000 tonnes of oil aboard its two undamaged tanks and ministers are preparing for “a worst case scenario”.
In a televised speech, Mr Jugnauth said: “The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation.
“We should prepare for a worst case scenario. It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart.”
At least 1,000 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked into the waters of the Indian Ocean, in what environmental group Greenpeace said could be a major ecological crisis.
Locals have scrambled to prevent it ruining the waters, coral reefs and beaches that support the island’s key industries of fishing and tourism.
A massive cleanup operation is under way involving making floating booms from leaves and human hair.
But it may already be too late, as conservationists said they were starting to find dead fish as well as seabirds covered in oil.
The Mauritius government declared an environmental emergency, pleading for international help, and France – its former colonial ruler – sent aid.
The MV Wakashio, owned by the Nagashiki Shipping Company and operated by Mitsui OSK Line, is believed to have been carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil when it ran aground on 25 July.
The operator pledged to do “everything in its power” to help relieve the disaster after fuel began leaking from the cracked vessel on Thursday.
Tourism last year contributed 63 billion Mauritius rupees (£1.2bn) to the economy of the country, which has a population of some 1.3 million people.