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Wakashio master: ‘I was under the influence of alcohol’

Wakashio master: ‘I was under the influence of alcohol’
Sam Chambers February 19, 2021

Further bombshells have been unearthed in the ongoing court proceedings looking into the Wakashio grounding off Mauritius.

Senior personnel including the chief engineer and the master of the infamous newcastlemax have been answering questions at a court in Mauritius this week.

Sri Lankan chief officer Hitinamillage Tilakaratna Subodha told the court last week told that the master had diverted the ship’s course to get closer to the Mauritian coastline in search of a wifi internet connection, something he did regularly around the world.

For his part, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwa, the ship’s Indian captain, has tried to shift the blame onto his first officer, while admitting he had been drinking.

“I was under the influence of alcohol and [Subodha] was in command of the ship,” Nandeshwa told the court, explaining that there had been a birthday party for a crewmember onboard on the day of the ship’s grounding last July.

Former judge Abdurrafeek Hamuth, who is chairing the Court of Investigation into the accident, told the captain: “You shouldn’t have consumed so much alcohol. There was negligence across the board and from all levels. You were also negligent.”

Earlier this week Nandeshwa had also admitted that no one had been on lookout at the time the ship grounded.

Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) was the charterer of the Wakashio, a 300 m long giant of the seas, owned by Nagashiki Shipping. En route to Brazil from Asia, the ship diverted from its course, running aground on pristine coral reefs just off southern Mauritius on July 25. The bulk carrier would go on to spill around 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel. The Wakashio then split in two.

In a release from December last year announcing measures to prevent another reoccurrence of a Wakashio style disaster, MOL gave the reason the ship had changed its passage plan from leaving a 22 nautical mile gap between it and the island of Mauritius to just two nautical miles. The reason cited, according to the release, was “to enter an area within the communication range of mobile phones”. Moreover, MOL revealed the crew were using a nautical chart without sufficient scale to confirm the accurate distance from the coast and water depth. In addition, MOL said a crewmember neglected appropriate watch-keeping, both visually and by radar.

A Chinese salvage team is this week attempting to remove the stern of the ship from the reef it has been stuck on for the last seven months. The front three quarters of the giant bulk carrier were towed 30 km offshore and scuttled last year.

In September last year, Mauritius demanded Japan pay $34m in reparations for the accident, widely believed to be the single worst ecological disaster to hit the Indian Ocean island.