Mauritian authorities arrested Tuesday the Indian captain of a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground off the island nation’s coast, spewing tonnes of oil into pristine waters, police said.
“We arrested the captain and his second-in-command today,” said spokesman Inspector Shiva Coothen. “They were taken to court on a provisionary charge. The investigation continues from tomorrow with the interrogation of other crew members.”
Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, an Indian citizen, and his deputy, who is from Sri Lanka, were charged under the piracy and maritime violence act, and are set to reappear in court next Tuesday.
The MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef on July 25 and began oozing oil more than a week later, spilling more than 1,000 tons into powder-blue waters.
Authorities have yet to confirm why the ship, which was making its way from Singapore to Brazil, had come so close to the island.
Including the captain, the multinational crew was comprised of three Indians, one Sri Lankan and 16 Filipinos, who were recruited to navigate the ship by its owner Nagashiki Shipping Co., based in Okayama Prefecture. All evacuated safely and were unharmed.
According to local media reports, several members of the crew said the vessel had navigated closer to the island in order to use a wireless internet signal before the grounding occurred. Police are currently investigating the claim.
The Mauritius coastguard had repeatedly tried to reach the ship to warn that its course was dangerous but had received no reply, according to a maritime official with knowledge of the incident who asked not to be named.
“The route set five days before the crash was wrong and the boat navigation system should have signaled that to the crew, and it seems the crew ignored it,” the official said. “The boat did also fail to send out an SOS (when it ran aground), and did not respond to attempts by the coastguard to get in touch.”
The official confirmed that the crew had been questioned about reports they were having a birthday party on board, but said it was not clear yet if the party had been held at the same time that the ship ran aground or earlier in the day.
He also denied media reports that the ship had sailed close to land to use a wireless internet signal, saying that looking for a phone signal would not have required sailing so close to land.
A national television network reported that the captain told the court the ship was sailing near the coastline to get a phone signal, something he had done before when sailing through those waters.
He was not in charge of the ship at the time, he said, and the ship was not on autopilot and there was bad weather, according to the report.
The official noted that it was the second accident in the area in four years, and said the government might establish a signal station nearby to try to ward off future disasters.
The Mauritius government said last week that it would seek compensation from the owner of the Japanese freighter over the oil leakage.
Nagashiki Shipping has said it will deal with the issue of compensation “in good faith.”
The Panama-flagged bulk carrier MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., was carrying a total of some 3,800 tons of fuel oil when it ran aground near Pointe d’Esny, an area designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
Scientists say the full impact of the spill is still unfolding but that the damage could affect Mauritius and its tourism-dependent economy for decades. Removing the ship is likely to take months.
A Japanese disaster relief team helping to clean up the devastating oil spill is focusing on mangroves, beaches and wetlands after most of the oil at sea was collected, it said Tuesday.
“As most of the spilled oil at sea has been collected, we are moving into a next stage, with the focus on cleaning up the seaside and minimizing the environmental impact,” Keiji Takechi, deputy team leader, told an online news conference from Mahebourg, Mauritius.
“Environmental experts who can give advice and instruction are needed now.”
Japan sent six officials, mainly oil spill experts, to Mauritius last week and plans to send another team of environment ministry officials and specialists this week.
Team leader Junji Gomakubo said the focus was not only on the immediate impact.
“We also need to think about plans to restore the environment in the long run, like in a 10-, 20-, 30-year span,” he said.(The Japan Times)