NEW DELHI: Why did it take 12 days to come up with a strategy to deal with an oil spill from the ship MV Wakashio that ran aground on July 25, asks former Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. An estimated 1,000 tonnes of fuel has leaked into a lagoon with the government declaring a national emergency on August 7. Fuel has been transferred to shore by helicopter and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping, which operates the Wakashio. Speaking to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, the country’s ex-head of state appealed for help and collaboration with Indian and other international institutions for damage assessment. Two days ago, India’s High Commission tweeted pictures of a barge deployed by Indian Oil (Mauritius) Limited helping in taking out fuel from the breached ship. France has sent a military aircraft with pollution-control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan has sent a six-member team. “Fantastic and heartwarming” is how the ex-President described the public rallying around the cause to save the lagoon by making booms out of fabric and sugarcane and filling sacks with straw to keep the oil out.
The tragedy, the biodiversity scientist says, is the spill could not have taken place in a worse location—a marine park. “The mangroves are more or less dead.” The organisations where the ship is registered and the owners have to be held accountable, says Ms Gurib-Fakim. The Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
It’s a double whammy to add to six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, she adds, to “the livelihoods of poor, desperate fisherfolk, and of course there is a ripple effect.” Tourism accounts for 24 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Ms Fakim raises her voice “in a call internationally” to “protect our ecosystems” since that “underpins our survival on the planet”. That’s something policymakers and politicians across the world don’t seem to get to grips with, she adds.