LETTERS | Appalling Forbes coverage of Wakashio grounding and oil spill

Wakashio. Photo: Panama Maritime Authority

Dear sirs,

Please convey my appreciation to Alan Loynd for his masterful demolition of Nishan Degnarain’s absurd, ignorant and damaging conspiracy theories about the Wakashio grounding and oil spill.

Why Forbes allows him to spout this nonsense I have no idea unless the once-respected magazine simply sees his interminable scribblings as useful ad revenue-generating clickbait.

For Deganarain everything is secretive and mysterious and underhand. He’s appointed himself the QAnon of the shipping industry, while, as Mr Loynd points out, knowing nothing about it. After about his third article, I wrote to Forbes to correct some of Degnarain’s more egregious errors and suggested he go to the IMO’s website to try to understand what it does and how the organisation and the industry functions. Of course, it was all to no avail, and Degnarain’s output of drivel since then has been relentless.

The next time I come across a website uncritically quoting Degnarain’s guff I shall send them the link to Mr Loynd’s article. I think this is the only way to counter the […..] being evacuated from the bowels of Forbes‘ editorial department.

Unfortunately, the industry doesn’t help itself with its mostly poor or non-existent public communications. At times it is secretive, often unnecessarily so. It can be intensely frustrating watching shipping shoot itself in the foot time and again and failing to shout loudly enough about the work it’s doing on emissions, alternative power etc., not to mention just keeping the world supplied with the food and goods that we all need, often under very difficult conditions.

Jasmina Ovcina’s article makes some valid points.

“Corruption, nepotism and incompetence are the rot that hampers progress”

I know Mauritius well: I’m married to a lady from Mahebourg, the town worst hit by the Wakashio pollution; some of her neighbours there are the fishermen directly affected by it.

There are some good people there, and I feel for them. But there is a huge gulf of distrust between the Mauritian people and their government, and a very genuine concern about the sea-borne importation of drugs and arms. Degnarain’s conspiracy theories unfortunately feed these local suspicions.

Despite being wholly dependent on the port for its very survival, Mauritius collectively is “sea-blind”. If Wakashio has done one positive thing (albeit in the most negative way) it’s been to make Mauritians aware of the ships that call into Port Louis or transit the sea lane alongside the east coast. It would be good to see global shipping players seize this opportunity to help ordinary Mauritians get involved in “their” sea and take up maritime careers.

For professional education, the Mauritius Maritime Training Academy needs to be woken from its slumbers and turned into a genuine maritime training institution able to turn out professional mariners. That means removing the dead hand of government from the place – a big challenge!

It may be small, but Mauritius is NOT a poor country – it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Southern Hemisphere – but corruption, nepotism and incompetence hamper progress.

The national pain at the effects of the Wakashio spill has, of course, been heightened by the capsize of the MPA tug Sir Gaetan and the resultant loss of four lives. The country has been shocked by media revelations about arrears of maintenance, poor record-keeping, poor management, the replacement of maritime professionals with political placemen, lack of maritime surveillance, lack of professional training etc. etc.

I believe that in such a sensitive and complex situation as this it is critical that all writers strive to get the facts right, to correct those that are wrong and to distinguish between fact and speculation (there’s nothing inherently wrong in speculation; it just needs to be flagged up as such). That’s why I think Mr Loynds’ column is so timely and important.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Spark

Balham, London, UK

See more stories from this month’s Tug and Salvage Week here.

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