Protest in Mauritius over oil spill, dozens of dead dolphins

Honking and drumming, thousands of people have begun protesting in the capital of Mauritius over the government’s handling of an oil spill from a grounded Japanese ship and the alarming discovery of dozens of dead dolphins in recent days

JOHANNESBURG — Honking and drumming, thousands of people protested Saturday in the capital of Mauritius over the government’s handling of an oil spill from a grounded Japanese ship and the alarming discovery of dozens of dead dolphins in recent days.

The protesters waved the country’s flag and held up signs with messages such as “You have no shame,” “I’ve seen better Cabinets at IKEA” and “Tyranny is spreading faster than COVID-19.”

The frustrated residents marched peacefully through Port Louis a month after the ship struck a coral reef offshore and later cracked and spilled around 1,000 tons of fuel oil into fragile marine areas.

“It’s clear we are at a turning point in the history of our country,” a commentary in the Le Mauricien newspaper said. Addressing the crowd, some speakers called for government officials to step down.

“Never seen so many people in the streets. This is beautiful,” local writer Khalil Cassimally tweeted.

Other protests were reported outside the Mauritius High Commission in London and in Paris and Perth, Australia. There was no immediate comment by the Mauritius government on the demonstrations.

“Inaction,” one protester scrawled on an inflatable dolphin held above the crowd in Port Louis. “Corruption,” one sign said in the local Creole language.

The Indian Ocean island nation depends heavily on tourism, and the spill has been a severe blow on top of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited international travel.

Authorities on Friday said at least 39 dead dolphins have washed ashore but it’s not yet clear what killed them. Some experts fear the chemicals in the fuel are to blame.

“Something that is also concerning is that we don’t know the possible long-term effects. The oil is a new low-sulfur fuel oil that is being introduced to reduce air pollution,” Jacqueline Sauzier with the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society told the journal Nature this week. “This is the first time that type of oil has spilled, so there have been no long-term studies on the impacts.”

Residents and environmentalists have demanded investigations into why the MV Wakashio strayed miles off course. Its captain and first officer have been arrested and charged with “endangering safe navigation.”

The ship ran aground on July 25 and began leaking fuel Aug. 6 into the Mahebourg Lagoon, fouling a protected wetlands area and a small island that was a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

Thousands of civilian volunteers worked for days to try to minimize the damage, creating makeshift oil barriers by stuffing fabric bags with sugar cane leaves and empty plastic bottles to keep them afloat. Environmental workers carefully ferried dozens of baby tortoises and rare plants to shore, plucking some trapped seabirds out of the goo.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth blamed bad weather for the government’s slow response to the ship’s grounding. Experts from ship owner Nagashiki Shipping, France and the United Nations have since arrived at the scene.

The ship’s remaining fuel was pumped out before the vessel finally split in two.

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