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Mass protest in Mauritius over handling of spill

Aug 30, 2020 17:16 IST

Thousands of people protested in the capital of Mauritius on Saturday 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 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.

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 had washed ashore and although it remained unclear what killed them, some experts fear the chemicals in the fuel are to blame.

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 August 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 minimise 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.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has 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.