Too early to blame Wakashio crew, ITF state

An aerial view shows the Wakashio bulk carrier that had ran aground and broken into two parts near Blue Bay Marine Park. Credit: AFP via Getty Images

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents 1.4 million seafarers, cautioned against blaming the crew for the grounding of the bulk carrier Wakashio off Mauritius and the subsequent oil spill, citing the global COVID-19 crew change prohibition as a mitigating factor.

Maritime industry stakeholders, the United Nations specialist agencies, and the UN have warned of the risks faced by ships with extended seaworthiness certificates and fatigued seafarers unable to be replaced, the union said in a statement on its website.

The captain and the first officer of Wakashio were arrested and charged with endangering safe navigation by the Mauritian authorities. They will reappear in court on 25 August 2020.

“It has been reported that most of the crew on the Wakashio were kept on board beyond their normal contractual terms. While it would be premature to speculate on the findings of ongoing investigations, it’s appropriate to remember that during the present crew change crisis, we have warned of the threat to human life, property, and the environment from an increasingly tired and fatigued global seafaring workforce,” said David Heindel, chair of ITF’s seafarers’ section in a statement.

“Detailed protocols have been developed to facilitate safe and secure crew changes, but even today only a handful of countries have taken leadership in providing safe passage to allow crew changes,” commented Heindel.

“Most of the world’s governments have left hundreds of thousands of seafarers trapped aboard ships around the world for months because they refused to allow them to return home when their employment agreements ended, in spite of the companies that employ them offering to organise very expensive charter flights for repatriation. The Republic of Mauritius is one such government that has refused to allow planes to land, bringing even their own citizens home. When will they be held responsible for that?” he said.

According to the UK government website, updated on 24 August, the Mauritian border is closed, including to returning residents. Commercial flights into Mauritius are currently not available, and anyone entering Mauritius will be placed into a quarantine centre for a minimum of 14 days.

Meanwhile, the broken fore section of the vessel was towed about 25 km away from Mauritius by two tugs on 20 August 2020. The salvors, Smit Salvage, will now concentrate on removing the aft section and any remaining oil from the reef.