Lawyers for the captain of the shipwrecked Wakashio have asked a judge to drop charges against their client in relation to the grounding that has resulted in an environmental disaster for the Indian Ocean island nation.
Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, the captain of the Japanese-owned and Panama-flagged Wakashio, was in court in the nation’s capital, Port Louis, on Tuesday to face charges of “endangering safe navigation” under the country’s Piracy and Maritime Violence Act. The defense has argued that the charges do not hold water and should be thrown out, according to French media reports.
The MV Wakashio ran aground off Mauritius’s Pointe d’Esny on July 25, 2020. The capesize bulk carrier, which was unladen at the time, was initially reported stable, but after days of pounding surf it began to break up, resulting in a breach of a bunker tank on August 6. An estimated 1,000 metric tons of oil was released into the environment before crews were able to plug the leak and remove any additional oil on board, according to the shipowner and manager Nagashiki Shipping Co. of Japan. The bow of the vessel has since been towed out to sea and scuttled.
AIS ship tracking data from Wakashio’s fateful voyage shows the ship deviated from the normal shipping lane by about 55 nautical miles and crashed directly into the island. Attempts by the Mauritian coast guard to contact the vessel were unsuccessful until after the grounding.
The Captain and Chief Officer of the Wakashio were eventually arrested by the Mauritius Police Force on August 18.
The Maritime Union of India (MUI) has called on relevant authorities for a fair trial of the captain as public outrage over the grounding and the government’s response to it grows.
“MUI’s communication has requested these bodies to investigate the arrest of Capt Sunil Nandeshwar in Mauritius and conduct his judicial trial in the local Court abiding the guidelines laid by ‘International Maritime Organization’ and without bowing to any political, governmental or corporate pressure,” the statement dated August 27 said.
“Capt Sunil Nandeshwar has had an incident-free career in the merchant navy for over 40 years, and around 25 years in command as ship’s Captain. He has successfully completed over 100 voyages across the globe till-date,” said MUI General Secretary Amar Singh Thakur.
Captain Nandeshwar remains in custody in Mauritius. The chief officer, Tilak Ratna Suboda, a Sri Lankan, is in custody facing similar charges. MUI said that the it will continue to provide assistance in the matter to ensure justice to the Indian seafarers.
More Wakashio news…
Over the weekend, thousands of Mauritians took to the streets of the capital, Port Louis, to protest after more than 40 dolphins were found dead along the coast last week. As of now the deaths have not been linked to the oil spill.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the charterer of the Wakashio, said today it has established a specialized team and sent supplies to Mauritius to help assist with the clean-up.
Also this week, the incident took a fatal turn when a tugboat involved in the oil spill response collided with a barge in bad weather, killing two of the tug’s crew members and leaving two others missing.