Panama blames captain, outdated charts for Wakashio grounding

An aerial view shows the Wakashio bulk carrier that ran aground and broke into two parts. Credit: AFP via Getty Images

The Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), the flag state of the ill-fated bulk carrier Wakashio, has weighed in on the incident, saying that the vessel ran aground off Mauritius due to the deliberate actions of the captain and outdated charts.

According to the AMP, Wakashio’s collision course “was the result of orders issued by the captain of the ship to sail about five miles off the coast of Mauritius to pick up telephone and internet signal for the crew members to communicate with their families”.

Despite having an experienced captain and officers of the watch on the bridge at the time of the incident, nothing was done to rectify the situation when the ship was in danger, the statement from AMP said.

In addition, AMP reported that it appears an outdated chart with the wrong scale was being used on the electronic nautical chart system, “which made it impossible to properly verify the approach to the coast and shallower waters”.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Union of India (MUI) has appealed for a fair trial for Wakashio’s captain, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, who is an Indian national. He and the first officer were arrested by Mauritian authorities on 18 August 2020, and were charged with endangering safe navigation.

The MUI has written to the Indian government’s Ministry of Shipping, the Mauritius government, the High Commission of India in Port Louis, the high commissioner and deputy commissioner of Mauritius in India, the Office of Mauritius Attorney General, the Mauritius Police Force, the Mauritius-based Maritime Transport and Port Employees Union, and all relevant offices in Mauritius and India.

“MUI’s communication has requested these bodies to investigate the arrest of Captain Sunil Nandeshwar in Mauritius and conduct his judicial trial in the local court abiding the guidelines laid by the International Maritime Organization and without bowing to any political, governmental, or corporate pressure,” the statement said.

“Captain Sunil Nandeshwar has had an incident-free career in the merchant navy for over 40 years, and around 25 years in command as ship’s captain. He has successfully completed over 100 voyages across the globe till date,” said MUI general secretary Amar Singh Thakur.

Among its demands, the MUI said the captain must be allowed to communicate with his family and his employer so that he has proper legal representation in the court case.