Locals angry over government’s inaction over Mauritius oil spill calamity
A massive volunteer clean-up effort is under way on the Indian ocean island of Mauritius this weekend after a massive oil spill on the pristine south-east coast that has triggered an ecological disaster.
The Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on the reef near Pointe d’Esny on July 25 and started leaking diesel and oil into the ocean this week. It was carrying an estimated 4000 tons of heavy bunker fuel, which started leaking into a pristine lagoon.
Mauritius has since declared a state of environmental emergency. The oil spill “is likely one of the most terrible ecological crises ever seen on the small island country,” Greenpeace Africa said in a statement on Friday.
Pointe d’Esny is listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and is situated near Blue Bay Marine Park and Iles aux Aigrettes, a tiny coral island declared a nature conservation site.
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”, said Greenpeace Africa.
Residents of Pointe d’Esny were already warning that the ship was sinking on August 5, it said. Local environmental NGO EcoSud said in its national appeal for volunteers: “We count on your solidarity. Now more than ever. We must rally together to save or salvage our marine flora and fauna.”
The island’s inhabitants have been making oil booms of sugar cane leaves and straw while hairdressers have been collecting hair cuttings, stuffed into nylon pantyhose, to help create more booms.
There is anger, however, among local residents at the government’s apparent inaction. On Facebook, the Logical Mauritian wrote: “You have a ship with 3.8K tons of oil wrecked less than a mile from your beach… close to your national marine park (Blue Bay). You are an island that survives on your tourism and your beaches are the lifeblood of your tourism industry.
“You have a blue economy strategy and an important fishing industry that many of your people survive on. You already are in an economic turmoil due to Covid-19. You had that ship wrecked near your lagoon for 12 days… 12 effing days. And it is obviously clear its spilling oil in your water. What have you been doing for 12 days?”
Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy campaign manager, said it stands with affected Mauritian coastal communities and calls on the UN and all governments to support Mauritius’s cleaning efforts.
“Recent months have seen a surge in oil catastrophes in Russia and Yemen. There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the climate crisis, as well as devastating oceans and biodiversity and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa’s most precious lagoons.”
In a statement on Friday, the Mauritian government said it was “taking all necessary actions to contain the oil spill”. The island’s Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, Kavydass Ramano, said the country is facing an unprecedented environmental situation as the vessel has grounded in a “very sensitive zone”.
A salvage team of 11 members were working to secure and stabilise the ship but had to be evacuated due to the cracks in the ship hull. Nevertheless, he said a technical team is working to assess the actual situation and come up with a technical plan “to proceed with the pumping of the fuel at the earliest”.