Almost 3 years after the Wakashio bulk carrier ran aground and spilled oil along the coast of Mauritius, the Panama Maritime Authority’s investigation report into the accident has been made public.
The bulk carrier was without cargo when it grounded on a reef off Mauritius’ Pointe d’Esny during a voyage from Singapore to Brazil on July 25, 2020. The incident sparked an “environmental emergency” after the ship broke up and spilled approximately 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the pristine waters some two weeks after the grounding.
The report largely confirms what was already known about the incident, which is that the ship sailed too close to shore in an attempt to pick up cell phone signal so crew members could communicate with family and friends back home.
According to the report,, the Captain ordered the Chief Officer (OOW) to pass 5 miles south of Mauritius before attending a birthday party for one of the ship’s crew members. However, a misunderstanding over the correct course resulted in the ship sailing closer to shore than intended. The Chief Officer then failed to realize that the ship was heading towards shallow waters, likely because he was distracted by his cell phone. Although the Captain had returned to the bridge before the grounding, he also failed to realize that the vessel was off course.
The investigation found the probable cause to be the Captain’s failure to recognize the risk of passing close to the island, as well as the distraction of the Chief Officer caused by his search for a cell signal and communication with family members. Both also failed to notice the danger when monitoring electronic charts in the ship’s ECDIS system, which were displayed in a large-scale that prevented them from noticing that a grounding was imminent.
The report cited the lack of vigilance by the Captain and Chief Officer, the overconfidence of the Captain, and inadequate ISM procedures as factors that contributed to the incident.
It should be noted that both the Captain and Chief Officer were sentenced to prison for their roles in the accident and served 16-month sentences.
It should also be noted that the incident occurred amid the crew change crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the report points out that the ship’s previous Bosun had jumped overboard a month before the accident, leaving the AB position unfilled due to COVID-19 restrictions after the previous AB was promoted to Bosun.
Although the investigation report was submitted to the IMO in 2021, it has just now been made available to the public.
You can read the full report here.
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