Africa

Second major protest in Mauritius over giant oil spill

MAHEBOURG, MAURITIUS (AFP) – Thousands of Mauritians marched Saturday (Sept 12) for the second time in a month as public anger festers over the government’s handling of a devastating oil spill off the coast.

A sea of colourful demonstrators waving flags and chanting slogans descended on Mahebourg on the south-east coast, where a cargo ship ran aground in July and leaked more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel into the pristine sea.

The spill has inflicted untold damage to the Indian Ocean archipelago of 1.3 million people that depends crucially on its fabled coastline for fishing and ecotourism.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and his government has been accused of not acting fast enough to prevent the worst environmental crisis in the country’s history.

Demonstrators thronging the coastline at Mahebourg chanted “He Must Leave!” and waved placards calling for the government to resign over the disaster.

“We are here to call on the government to pack their things and go. The people no longer trust this government,” said Marie, a protester who only gave her first name.

It was the second major protest over the spill after a huge rally on Aug 29 in the capital Port Louis.

Police said 60,000 attended that protest though organisers said the turnout was more than double that. An official estimate was not yet available for Saturday’s rally.

The MV Wakashio crashed off Mauritius on July 25 with 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard but did not begin leaking oil for more than a week.

By the time Mr Jugnauth issued an urgent appeal for international help the slick had reached the shore, coating mangrove forests, fragile ecosystems and coral reefs.

An army of volunteers scrubbed the coastline but the stricken bulker kept leaking, even after salvage crews declared the last of the fuel aboard having been removed on Aug 12.

“The MV Wakashio (incident) illustrates the incompetence of this government,” said Mr Bruno Laurette, one of the protest organisers.

“Criminal negligence has had an impact on the flora and fauna of our country. Enough. They have to be put out of harm’s way.”

The ship eventually split and the larger piece was towed out to sea and sunk, further angering conservationists. The smaller section remains stranded on the reef and is visible from Mahebourg.

The washing ashore of nearly 50 dead melon-headed whales only spurred further outrage, as did the death of two sailors involved in the salvage process when their tugboat collided with a barge.

The Japanese owner of the MV Wakashio pledged this week to pay at least US$9.4 million (S$12.86 million) to help fix the damage caused by the spill.

It is still unclear why the Wakashio was so close to shore when the accident occurred. Jugnauth has commissioned a formal investigation and promised a full and transparent inquiry.

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