Ecological tragedy in Mauritius

August 29, 2020

From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters

Port Louis, Mauritius—The Wakashio oil spill is an ecological tragedy in the pristine waters near Mahebourg. It will take years to heal and may be irreversible. To what extent was this event “inevitable”? What are the issues that lead to such an “accident”?

• How and why could such an immense tanker with all its sophisticated technology, including radar, steer straight at a reef and plough into it?

• Why were the Captain and crew unable to answer calls for so long?

• What is the responsibility of the Japanese Company and the State of Japan?

As for the Mauritian authorities, it is incredible that a country with such a big port that actually sells fuel to ships, and has ambitions to be a “petroleum hub,” does not have the know-how or equipment to deal with this kind of event.

• How could the Coast Guard let such a huge ship get so close without calling it out?

• Why has it taken 10 days without the Mauritian Government taking any initiative in the rescue? At least the Mauritian State needs to begin pumping out the oil and not leave it sitting on the reef.

As LALIT member Lindsey Collen declared to Radio One: The ship just sat there like a sitting duck until the sea cracked open one of its tanks.

In the face of this, LALIT is impressed with the mobilization of all those living around the spill, and of the groups of volunteers from all over the country doing their best to limit it. People are sewing long tarpaulin booms stuffed with cane-top straw and even human hair from hairdressers. They are showing how important the sea is, as nature, and as what sustains humanity.


This kind of tragic event is a result of something typical to the neoliberal capitalism that we are in today. A country like Mauritius has 35,000 huge vessels going past its waters every year, and people know only too well that such grave spills can happen. Yet Mauritius has none of the basic resources required to cope. There are not enough tug boats to handle a ship on the reef nor enough pumps to start the pumping operations at once.

This shows the criminal negligence towards nature and human society that is endemic to capitalism. It is systemic under capitalist rule.

This kind of “accident” will continue to happen as long as there is capitalism and the profits-first logic reigns. Precautionary principles, prevention of disasters, preparation to face accidents—all these things are often not “profitable” under the judgment of private enterprise.

Democratic control over the bosses and their state is a basic problem. Without it we are at the mercy of a huge tanker plowing into a reef. We need people’s control over this complicated, highly developed technological society. Which is why it is on LALIT’s agenda today.


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