Differences emerge in court between Wakashio captain and chief officer

Different versions of the events that led up to the grounding of bulk carrier Wakashio (IMO 9337119) have emerged from the now wrecked vessel’s captain and chief officer, from India and Sri Lanka respectively.

The Mitsui OSK Lines-operated newcastlemax ran aground on a reef off southern Mauritius last July.

Sri Lankan chief officer Hitinamillage Tilakaratna Subodha said to the court last week that the master had changed the course of the ship to get closer to the coastline of Mauritius because he wanted to find a wi-fi internet connection. The chief officer said that the captain did this regularly during the vessel’s travels.

Sunil Kumar Nandeshwa, the ship’s Indian captain, who has been questioned by prosecutors this week, has said in turn that the fault of the grounding was attributable to the Wakashio’s first officer.

Nandeshwa said that he had gone nearer to the coastline at Subodha’s request. He claimed that it was the chief officer who had not followed his instructions when passing by the island. However, he admitted that no one had been on lookout at the time the ship grounded.

Nandeshwa also admitted that he had sailed close to the Mauritius coastline between 10 and 15 times. He confirmed that during one incident in early 2019, when he had come within five miles of the coastline, the local coast guard had contacted the vessel to check the ship’s routing.

The chief engineer, Preetam Singh, recounted to the court the exact moments of the grounding on July 25th 2020. He said that he was on the bridge and sitting in the pilot’s chair, checking something on his mobile phone.

“Suddenly there was a big vibration. The captain rushed towards the ECDIS. I went down to the engine room. The order to stop the engine had already been given. I told the oiler to turn on the generator. And when the engine stopped, the captain gave the order to reverse”, Singh said to the court. He noted that a short circuit had stopped two ballast pumps working.

While the longer part of the ship attached to the bow has been towed away, but operations to remove the stern of the ship have been hampered by poor weather, which continued this week.

MOL said in a release in December last year that the reason the ship had changed its passage plan, reducing a 22nm gap between it and the island of Mauritius to just 2nm was “to enter an area within the communication range of mobile phones”.

MOL revealed the crew were using a nautical chart without sufficient scale to confirm the accurate distance from the coast and water depth. In addition, MOL said a crewmember neglected appropriate watch-keeping, both visually and by radar.

The release announcing measures to prevent another reoccurrence of a Wakashio style disaster.