Mahebourg, the capital of solidarity in Mauritius
A wave of togetherness to contain an oil spill in the South-East of Mauritius. Mahebourg has become the capital of solidarity on the island since the grounding on 25 July 2020 of the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier under Panama flag, on the reefs at Pointe d’Esny and the spillage of part of the oil it was carrying after a crack in one of its holds on Thursday 6 August. The oil spill was contained a week later as a result of the tireless efforts of the Mauritian volunteers. The fuel in the boat’s tanks has been pumped by the authorities with the assistance and expertise of France, thus limiting the damage caused to the lagoon, coastline and ecosystem.
The 259-metre-long MV Wakashio leaked hundreds of tonnes of fuel on Thursday 6 August, causing an oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in the History of Mauritius.
Thousands of volunteers used nylon mesh (‘sarlon’), needles, gloves, nylon thread and empty drums to make ‘socks’ stuffed with sugarcane leaves and hair generously donated by the Mauritian people in order to contain the deadly progression of the oil slick. One kilo of hair can absorb eight litres of oil.
A new lease of life
The volunteers were engaged on several fronts at once, including Mahebourg Waterfront, Falaise Rouge, Bois des Amourettes, Beau Plan and Bagatelle. They made hundreds of metres of floating booms. Others used shovels to clean the heavy oil from the shore. Their only aim was to save the bay of Grand Port, a gem of natural beauty. Their combined efforts have paid off.
Only 880 out of the 4,180 tonnes of oil carried by the MV Wakashio have leaked from the ship and 460 tonnes have been recovered from the sea. The rest has been pumped from the ship’s tanks before it was split in two. 524 tonnes of contaminated waste and debris and 416 cubic metres of sorbent booms had been collected by midday on Monday 17 August.
The worst has thus been avoided in the lagoons of the South-East of Mauritius. Only 10-12km of coastline have been affected by the oil spill. The main beaches and the Blue Bay Marine Park have not been impacted. The remaining 310km of coastline remain intact to the great relief of the authorities, inhabitants, ecologists, environmentalists and tourism operators.
The magical South-East of Mauritius can get a new lease of life. The area is made up of turquoise lagoons, a marine park and Ile aux Aigrettes, where conservation efforts of the endemic flora and fauna of Mauritius are taking place, as well as one of the Beachcomber Group’s leading and most beautiful hotels, Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa. Tourism operators can now focus on efforts to welcome back foreign visitors as soon as the borders reopen.