Thousands march in Mauritius over dead dolphins, oil spill

This satellite image provided by 2020 Maxar Technologies on Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020, showing an aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Officials say the grounded Japanese ship that leaked tons of oil near protected areas off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, has split apart with remaining fuel seen spreading into the turquoise waters. (2020 Maxar Technologies via AP)
This satellite image provided by 2020 Maxar Technologies on Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020, showing an aerial view of the MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that recently ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius. Officials say the grounded Japanese ship that leaked tons of oil near protected areas off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, has split apart with remaining fuel seen spreading into the turquoise waters. (2020 Maxar Technologies via AP)

JOHANNESBURG – Honking and drumming, tens of thousands of people protested Saturday in Mauritius over the government’s slow response to an oil spill from a grounded Japanese ship and the alarming discovery of dozens of dead dolphins in recent days.

Outraged over the Indian Ocean island nation's worst environmental disaster in years, protesters displayed signs such as “You have no shame" and “I’ve seen better Cabinets at IKEA." “Inaction,” one protester scrawled on an inflatable dolphin held above the crowd.

They marched peacefully through the capital, Port Louis, a month after the ship struck a coral reef a mile offshore. It later cracked under the pounding surf and spilled around 1,000 tons of fuel oil into fragile marine areas.

“It’s clear we are at a turning point in the history of our country,” a commentary in the Le Mauricien newspaper said, as residents said the demonstration could politicize a broader section of the population.

Addressing the crowd in Port Louis, some speakers called for top officials to step down. There was no immediate government comment. Other protests were reported outside the Mauritius High Commission in London and in Paris and Perth, Australia.

“I'd be surprised if it's not close to 100,000” people who attended the march, local writer Khalil Cassimally said. Public demonstrations aren't common in Mauritius, but “one of the things that really binds people together is the sea,” he said. “It's one of the jewels of this country, and everyone feels very passionately about this.”

Another protest is planned on Sept. 12 in Mahebourg, one of the most affected coastal villages, Cassimally said.

Mauritius 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.