from HANSLEY NABAB in Port Louis, Mauritius
PORT LOUIS – IN an era when diplomatic relations are fragile, Mauritius has underlined its rating as Africa’s most peaceful country and set an example of diplomacy to the comity of nations.
This follows a devastating ecological disaster triggered by an oil spill by a foreign bulk carrier.
The government of the small island nation of some 1,2 million people has declared a state of emergency after the Japanese vessel, MV Wakashio, ran 1, 6km offshore aground off the coast of Mauritius, carrying nearly 4 200 metric tons of fuel.
Over 1 000 tons had, at the time of publication, been spilled into the ocean. Oil slick from the MV Wakashio stretches at least across 27 square kilometres.
The vessel was laden with low-sulphur fuel oil, diesel and lubricant oil.
In what has emerged as the worst environmental disaster in the Indian Ocean, the ship, which has split into two, is located near ecologically-sensitive and important areas.
It is a monumental disaster for Mauritius, which depends heavily on the marine-based ‘Blue Economy’ and tourism.
The Ministry of Environment reports approximately 13 villages in the vicinity affected by the spill are in need of immediate and longer-term assistance.
The catastrophe could not have come at a worse time, considering the economy has already been hard-hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020.
Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) noted the significant oil spill at the coast marred Mauritius’ economy plans to reopen its international borders for both aircrafts and ships at the end of August.
Earlier this year, the bank indicated that the tourism sector was expected to decline by 80 percent to 90 percent in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
“The current oil spill, unless quickly resolved, could worsen these statistics significantly,” RMB stated.
Green Peace describes the affected area as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The area includes the Point d’Esny Wetlands, Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, Blue Bay Marine Area, Mahebourg Fishing Reserves, barachois (coastal lagoons) and mangroves.
Despite the odds heavily stacked against it, Mauritius has taken the disaster within its stride and no sign of any row with Japan, where the beleaguered ship is from.
Last week, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), proprietors of the MV Wakashio vessel, publicly expressed an apology for the environmental disaster caused.
This week, the company assured that it was investigating the cause of the tragedy.
“The crews are being investigated by the authorities to help determine the cause of the incident,” MOL stated.
Japan and Mauritius have enjoyed what are termed as friendlier and brotherly ties since the latter’s independence 52 years ago.
Environment protection and tackling climate change are central to the relations.
This past weekend, upon the request by the Mauritian government of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Japan dispatched a six-member Disaster Relief (JDR) expert team to the island country to respond to the oil leakage.
The Asian nation conceded the accident could have a serious impact on the environment and the tourism industry of Mauritius.
Japan hailed the friendly relationship between the two countries.
“We hope that this assistance will contribute to recovery of the environment of Mauritius and prevention of marine pollution,” read a statement.
Coinciding with the tragedy, Japan and Mauritius signed a grant assistance of ¥300 million yen, approximately ₨100 million rupees (US$ 2,8 million) under the framework of the Economic and Social Development Programme for health sector.
It aims to reinforce Mauritius’ health system, which is overstretched by the COVID-19.
The global community, via the United Nations (UN) family, has expressed solidarity with Mauritius.
The international community, local authorities, the private sector, civil society organisations and local community volunteers are working collectively to help contain this crisis.
“The UN is joining hands with the government, people of Mauritius and development partners in the spirit of solidarity at this time of crisis,” Christine Umutoni, the UN resident coordinator in Mauritius, said.
Free from internal and external conflict, Mauritius is rated the most peaceful country in Africa in the Global Peace Index.
It has maintained a similar stance amid the tussle for Chagos Archipelago, which it disputes with the United Kingdom (UK).
Former coloniser, UK, with the support of its ally, the United States (US), has defied international court orders to hand over the 56,13 km2 territory to Mauritius. UK has leased the territory to US, which is using it as a military base.
– CAJ News