An aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Picture: 2020 Maxar Technologies. via AP
An aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Picture: 2020 Maxar Technologies. via AP

Africa needs to respond to pleas from Mauritius for help

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Aug 12, 2020

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Ever since thick black oil from a ruptured Japanese ship started to decimate kilometres of Mauritius’s shoreline a week ago, Mauritius issued an appeal to the international community for emergency assistance in this unprecedented ecological catastrophe.

What is inexcusable is that not a single African country heeded the cry for help from one of its own AU members. They have left it up to one of the former colonial powers, France, to say it would send pollution-control equipment and a navy vessel. Mauritius was a colony of France until the island was handed to Britain in 1810.

There have been no reported offers of assistance from Britain to assist Mauritius in the disaster.

Mauritius’s repeated pleas for assistance have fallen on deaf ears, even as Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency and said: “Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, this represents a real danger to our country.”

Greenpeace Africa has called on the UN and all governments to support Mauritius’s cleaning efforts.

Africa may be in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, but the continent has an immensely long coastline that sits on the Indian ocean, and surely some naval forces or rescue boats could have done something to help, and those countries with booms and pollution equipment could have diverted them in the direction of the desperate island nation?

Instead, the residents of Mauritius are being forced to construct home-made floating oil booms out of clothing, straw and sugarcane leaves tied together with plastic jugs to keep them from sinking. Others have used empty oil drums to scoop up as much of the oil as possible.

Volunteers have taken matters into their own hands by using small tourist boats and simple fishing vessels, but the efforts will be insufficient to combat the masses of oil leaking from the oil tanker MV Wakashio, leaving Mauritius’s sea and bird life devastated.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it would send a disaster relief team to Mauritius.

But none of the emerging footage has shown such a team working on cleaning up the spill. The oil is devastating an area close to two internationally protected UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Ramsar sites for wetlands, listed as being of international importance.

They include a small coral atoll which was set aside from human interference for the recovery of endemic species of Mauritius’s rich and rare biodiversity. The oil spillage could mean the extinction of many plant, rare bird and wildlife species that are found only there.

The oil pollution will also have dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security and health. Many residents rely on fishing for food security, which has been dramatically affected. The economy of Mauritius also heavily relies on tourism, and this sector took an unprecedented economic hit when the government closed Mauritius’s borders to tourists at the start of the pandemic, and the tourism industry has virtually ground to a standstill.

On the upside is that Mauritius is the only country in Africa which has reported no active Covid-19 cases.

With tourism contributing $1.59 billion (R28bn) to the economy of the country, the disaster is likely to deter tourist bookings even for the end of the year, assuming the country opens its borders.

Not a single African country heeded the island’s cry for help.

* Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media.

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