Wakashio master admits he had drunk alcohol on night of grounding

Sunil Kumar Nandeshwa, the Indian captain of the grounded wreck Wakashio, has admitted that he had been drinking before the vessel hit a Mauritius reef in July 2020, but continued to claim that his chief officer was to blame.

Senior personnel, including the chief engineer and the master, were answering questions at a court in Mauritius last week.

Sri Lankan chief officer Hitinamillage Tilakaratna Subodha told the court that the master had diverted the ship’s course to get closer to the Mauritian coastline in search of a wi-fi internet connection. He said that this was a frequent habit of the master.

The captain told the court that “I was under the influence of alcohol and [Subodha] was in command of the ship”.

He said that there had been a birthday party for a crewmember onboard on the day of the ship’s grounding.

Former judge Abdurrafeek Hamuth, who is chairing the Court of Investigation into the accident, told the captain: “You shouldn’t have consumed so much alcohol. There was negligence across the board and from all levels. You were also negligent.”

Nandeshwa had previously admitted that no one had been on lookout at the time the ship grounded.

Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) was the charterer of the Wakashio, which was owned by Nagashiki Shipping. The bulk carrier was en route to Brazil from Asia, but diverted from its course and then ran aground on coral reefs just off southern Mauritius on July 25th 2020. The vessel would eventually spill about 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel before splitting in two.

MOL said last December that the reason the ship had changed its passage plan from leaving a 22 nautical mile gap between it and the island of Mauritius to just two nautical miles was “to enter an area within the communication range of mobile phones”.

MOL also revealed that 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.