Wakashio master and first officer arrested, detained

Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, the captain of the Wakashio bulk carrier that had ran aground, leaves from the court after he and his deputy were charged under the piracy and maritime violence act in Port Louis, Mauritius, on 18 August 2020. Credit: RISHI ETWAROO/L'Express Maurice/AFP via Getty Images

The captain and the first officer of the Wakashio were arrested by Mauritian authorities on 18 August and were charged with endangering safe navigation.

Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, the 58-year-old Indian captain of the vessel; and the Sri Lankan first officer, Tilak ratna Suboda, made an appearance in the district court in Port Louis, Mauritius, to hear the charges. They will be detained until their next court appearance on 25 August.

“We arrested the captain and his second-in-command today [18 August 2020]. The investigation continues with the interrogation of other crew members,” said inspector Shiva Coothen, a police spokesperson.

The investigation will centre on the reason Wakashio was sailing close to Mauritius. It was supposed to stay at least 16 km away from the shore, but was about 2 km out when it struck a coral reef near Pointe D’esny on the southeastern side of the island on 25 July.

The bulk carrier, owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, then leaked about 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel that threatened a number of UNESCO-protected ecological sites on the island. The vessel eventually broke into two parts on 15 August.

“The route set five days before the crash was wrong and the boat navigation system should have signalled that to the crew, and it seemed the crew ignored it. The boat did also fail to send out an SOS [when it ran aground] and did not respond to attempts by the coastguard to get in touch,” a maritime expert said.

However, according to a report on L’Express, the crew told police during investigation that there had been a birthday party on the ship the day it ran aground. There was also a claim that the ship navigated too close to the shore in order to pick up Wi-Fi signal.