Stranded Wakashio breaks in two, captain could face charges

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

The Capesize bulk carrier Wakashio, which ran aground on a reef off Mauritius and sparked an environmental crisis, broke in two over this past weekend.

Local newspaper L’Express reported that prior to the grounding incident, the carrier sailed close to the Mauritius coastline to get a Wi-Fi signal. Apparently, the crew on board were having a birthday celebration, according to an investigation. The 58-year-old captain could face negligence charges as a result.

According to the Mauritius National Crisis Committee, a crack in cargo hold No. 8 to the stern side of the vessel worsened at 2 pm local time on 15 August 2020. “At around 4:30 pm, a major detachment of the vessel’s forward section was observed,” the committee said in a statement.

The larger fore section of the vessel will be towed away. The aft part, with superstructure, engine room, and fuel tanks, remains on the reef. The wreck poses minimal or no pollution threat because most of the fuel was removed during the salvage operation. There is no “ecological disaster” or “catastrophe”, even if the stern on reef was to be dismantled on the site, shipowner Nagashiki Shipping said.

Wakashio was sailing in ballast, with about 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard when it hit the reef near the Blue Bay Marine Park on 25 July 2020.

It started leaking bunker fuel on 6 August, and a total of 1,000 tonnes of fuel had spilt on 10 August.

The Mauritius National Crisis Committee said about 90 tonnes of fuel were still on board when the vessel broke up. Booms had been reinforced near the vessel to absorb any more oil that leaked out. Coast guard vessels have been positioned in the area.