Hello and welcome to this issue of our newsletter. Every week, Ariel and Khalil, writers based in Mauritius, investigate the impact the oil spill is having on the country and its people, politics and nature.
On Saturday, around 100,000 Mauritians took to the streets to protest against the government’s handling of the Wakashio disaster.
ICYMI: 1,000 tonnes of oil gushed into the lagoon, 48 melon-headed whales and other marine animals have been found dead, and the government has been unable to give clear answers on the circumstances of the crash, the oil spill, the clean-up efforts, and so forth.
The mood at the protest was electric. It was the largest in recent Mauritian history.
You may have seen some coverage of the march already: creative posters (‘I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA!’ ‘This is so bad even the introverts are here!’); videos of people of all ages and ethnicities singing the national anthem and Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
I love this video by Brady Goorappa, which captures the essence of the march.
Photo: Ish Sookun
Another march is to be organised on the 12th of September in Mahébourg – and it seems like there’ll be even more to protest about. Here’s the latest.
In this issue
Three dead as a Wakashio salvage operation goes horribly wrong
Mystery deepens over crash of the Wakashio; captain’s former lawyer cites ‘occult powers’
Questions grow over increasing government authoritarianism
⚫ Three dead and one man missing in another Wakashio-related disaster
On August 31, a tug boat was sent to tow a barge from the site of the wreckage to Port Louis, on the other side of Mauritius. The tug boat was reportedly carrying 25 tonnes of oil when it reportedly collided with the barge. Three members of the crew have been found dead and the captain, Moswadeck Bheenick, is still missing. Greenpeace fears a second oil spill.
Like mostly everything related to the Wakashio, the crash is imbued with mystery. The weather forecasts had clearly indicated bad weather at sea, and it appears that the tug boat had major operational problems.
More: Nishan Degnarain’s excellent coverage (as always).
⚫ The Captain’s lawyer is dropped from the case
Yousuf Mohamed, the lawyer chosen to defend the Wakashio's captain, Sunil Nandeshwar, was shocked to discover yesterday that Nandeshwar was no longer seeking his legal counsel. He claims that Nandeshwar revealed certain things to him last week, that could ‘annoy’ quite a number of powerful people. Mohamed believes that ‘occult forces’ exerted pressure on Nandeshwar.
Wakashio's captain is charged under ‘unlawful interference with the operation of a property of a ship likely to endanger its safe navigation’.
More: Le Weekend has a great piece on possible drugs onboard the ship (in French, though)
⚫ Government authoritarianism
In an address to the nation on Monday, the Prime Minister said he saluted the protesters and that the march showed that ‘democracy was alive and working’.
For the record, we thought we’d give you:
A timeline of events so far
July 25: MV Wakashio runs aground at around 8pm local time, off the coast of Pointe d’Esny in the south east of Mauritius.
August 6: Oil begins to leak from the vessel. Thousands of volunteers mobilise, coordinated in large part by left-wing, anti-establishment party Rezistans ek Alternativ. In an awkward move, the government states that volunteers aren’t allowed near the sites of the spill and could potentially face imprisonment and a hefty fine.
August 7: Mauritian government declares a state of environmental emergency.
August 12: Prime minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, defends his government’s handling of the situation and refuses to apologise to the Mauritian people, in an interview on the BBC. His performance is widely panned in large sections of the local press and on social media.
Crackdown on the media
August 12: Police officers bar journalists with media outlets l’express and Top FM from attending a press conference by Jugnauth. l’express and Top FM have a recent history of criticising the government.
Crackdown on the opposition
August 13: Police officers prevent journalists from attending a press conference by Dr Arvin Boolell, Labour MP and leader of the opposition. Boolell eventually holds the press conference in public, in front of a police station.
August 13: BBC World News channel on the my.t boxset (service provider) and over-the-air broadcast stops showing for a few hours, replaced by CGTN, a Chinese news station. The period of no-show coincides with the airing, on BBC World Service, of an interview with former prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, now in opposition, Dr Navin Ramgoolam.
Crackdown on citizens
August 13: Vinod Ramdonee, a volunteer who was helping with oil cleanup, refuses to take down a signpost with the slogan “I love my country, I’m ashamed of my government”. In a Facebook Live video, he says he was subsequently harassed and intimidated by men he alleges are close to those in power. The video and slogan go viral.
August 15: Police officers allegedly confront volunteers and Rezistans ek Alternativ activists aggressively in an attempt to disband them. The citizens had regrouped in a public space at Mahébourg. The police apparently back off when activists call radio stations.
August 21: A crowd gathers in Mahébourg to watch the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Fisheries appear in court. Bruneau Laurette had lodged a 'private prosecution' case against them, accusing them of 'culpable omission'.
The crowd, mostly comprising inhabitants of the impacted Mahébourg, makes their grievances known by shouting at the ministers as they walk by. Many of the ministers' partisans also turn up.
Inhabitants ask the partisans to stop mixing party politics with the disaster. In the crowd are the Dardenne brothers, volunteers who helped with the oil clean-up. Also present is Dominique Veerasamy whose husband and son are fishermen who are effectively out of work.
August 22: The Dardenne brothers are arrested without a warrant. They spend the night in jail. They learn that a man close to the Minister of Fisheries had reported being shoved by them.
August 24: Police summons Dominique Veerasamy, informing her she needs to call in at the station in two days. Veerasamy is a Mahébourg resident who went viral in a video in which she appears to admonish government party supporters demonstrating in the village, asking them to show solidarity with the people of Mahébourg. Police appears to backtrack due to public pressure a day later.
Half of the Wakashio is scuttled in an undisclosed location, apparently against international recommendations, and in mysterious circumstances. Forbes wonders if the scuttling could be considered an international crime.
August 26: Dead melon-headed whales wash up on the east coast of Mauritius. The Minister of Fisheries states that the deaths have nothing to do with the oil spill or the scuttling of the ship, without waiting for the full preliminary necropsy results. This is still the official position. The panel of experts presided by the Minister has also come under scrutiny.
That’s all from me this week. There's another protest march happening on Saturday, September 12. We'll be there. Thanks for reading – Ariel.