Bulker captain, first officer get 20 months’ jail time for massive oil spill in Mauritius

Photo: International Maritime Organisation

A court in Mauritius has sentenced two cargo ship officers to 20 months’ imprisonment each after they pleaded guilty to violating local maritime and environmental protection laws following a highly publicised incident involving a grounding and an oil spill in one of the country’s coral reefs.

The defendants in the case were Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and Hitihanillage Subhoda Janendra Tilakaratna, who were serving as the captain and the first officer, respectively, of the Japanese-owned bulk carrier Wakashio when it ran aground on a reef near Pointe D’Esny in southeastern Mauritius on July 25, 2020.

The grounding left the hull of the Panamanian-flagged, 203,000DWT vessel so severely damaged that it soon after began leaking over 1,000 tonnes of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) into the surrounding waters.

The ship itself split in two exactly three weeks later.

The two defendants have been in the custody of Mauritian authorities since August last year.

The captain earlier admitted that he had consumed alcohol during a party prior to the grounding and that he had ordered the ship to be brought closer to the coast in an effort to improve the mobile phone reception on board.

Wakashio was en route from Brazil to China when the incident occurred.

The first officer, who was also the lookout at the time of the mishap, was charged for failing to ensure safe navigation after an investigation revealed he was present at the same party instead of on the bridge as the ship neared the coast.

Officials of the Mauritius National Coast Guard claimed that they contacted the captain via radio earlier in the day on July 25 to warn him to change course.

The captain, however, replied that the route was safe enough and that the ship would continue along its route. The grounding occurred just minutes later.

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