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Ecological Tragedy Unfurls as Wakashio Spills Crude Oil – Was it Evitable?

09.08.2020

The Wakashio oil spill is an ecological tragedy in the pristine waters near Mahebourg. It will take years to heal. Effects may even be irreversible. So, in LALIT, we believe questions need answers. To what extent is this kind of event “inevitable” or “evitable”? And what are the basic issues that lead to such an “accident” happening in the first place. Is it really an “accident”?


Too many issues are not being getting answers:


- How on earth and why on earth could such an immense tanker with all its sophisticated technology including its radar, just steer straight at the reef and plunge into it? Without even managing to lower its two big anchors?


- How could it be that the Captain and crew were unable to answer calls for so long?


- What is the responsibility of the Japanese Company and the State of Japan for this?


As for the Mauritian Authorities, it is equally incredible that a country with such a big port, with its “bunkering” i.e. actually selling fuel to ships, and with its ambition to be a “petroleum hub” not having the least know-how or equipment to face up to this kind of event. 


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


- How come it has taken all these days – 10 days – to pass without the Mauritian Government taking any initiative in the rescue? At the very least, the Mauritian State needs to have the equipment to stabilize such a ship, and to begin the pumping. Not just leave it sitting high and dry on the reef. 


Because of failing to stabilize the ship, and failing to pump out some of the crude oil, the ship just sat there like a sitting duck until the sea moved it and cracked open one of its tanks, while waiting for further movements of the pitiless sea to break the ship and spill all the oil, to quote LALIT member, Lindsey Collen’s declaration to Radio One yesterday.


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 the spill. People are sewing long tarpaulin booms stuffed with cane-top straw and even human hair from hairdressers. This way, people are showing how important the sea is, as nature, and as what sustains humanity.


The real blame


To conclude, it is important to note that this kind of tragic event is a result of something typical in capitalism in general, and even more typical of the neo-liberal variant of capitalism that we are in today: even if a country like Mauritius has 35,000 huge vessels going past the waters of the Republic every year, and even if people know only too well that such grave spills can happen, Mauritius as a country has none of the basic resources required to cope:


- There are not enough tugs right here to handle the ship on the reef.


- There are not enough pumps to start the pumping operations at once. 


It shows the kind of criminal negligence towards nature, and towards human society that is part of that nature, that is endemic in capitalism. Such negligence is systemic under capitalist rule. 


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


Not so Different: The Explosion in Beirut


While the Wakashio shipwreck tragedy unfolds in Mauritius, in the Lebanon the systemic negligence of capitalism has taken its toll another way: stocking ammonium nitrate for years, despite its danger, in the Beirut port – until the time came, last week, for a fire in a warehouse next door to provoke a violent explosion that caused a mushroom effect moving faster than the speed of sound. Over a hundred deaths, thousands of wounded, and hundreds of thousands without housing.


For the record, as countries all over the world scramble to fix their ammonium nitrate depots, we in LALIT have in the past contributed to preventing such a blast. As long ago as on 8 October 1982, when we had only been constituted as a political party for five months, we warned the then Government about the storage of the firm MCFI’s ammonium nitrate, which was right next to its storage of privately imported dynamite in the port area. We published all the technical details given to us by employees on a Page 1 article under the title “Danze Explozyon” (Explosion Danger). The article, inter alia, quoted the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament in a 1977 report warning the Government of the real risks of “partial destruction of Port Louis and the deaths of thousands of people”. Fortunately the Government eventually acted because of constant pressure to act, thus avoiding any tragedy. 


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 or stored chemicals blowing up. 


We need people’s control over this very complicated, highly developed technological society. Which is why it is on LALIT’s agenda today.