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Countdown to disaster: why did the Wakashio deviate from its intended course?

Salvors have done a brilliant job removing the rest of the bunker fuel onboard the stricken Wakashio bulk carrier, which has been lying precariously on a reef off the south coast of Mauritius since July 25.

Attention is now turning to how to remove the ship, which is very close to breaking up.

On land, investigators are trying to piece together how the Panamanian-flagged ship came to rest on the reef.

For its part, the Panama Maritime Authority has blamed poor weather conditions on the day of the accident.

The world’s largest registry issued a statement yesterday suggesting the voyage of the ship – in ballast from China to Brazil via Singapore – had been proceeding smoothly until July 25, when the vessel faced “adverse weather conditions” near the coast of Mauritius.

“It was then, necessary to perform various maneuvers to change course due to the state of the sea. All maneuvers were supervised by the captain and first officer of the ship who were aware of the situation and weather conditions. At 19:25hrs of the same day, while on the bridge, the captain, the first officer and the chief engineer noticed that the ship stopped moving and that it was stranded,” Panamanian authorities claimed yesterday.

The poor weather narrative runs contrary however to what London-based maritime intelligence platform Windward has detailed for July 25.

Windward data shows that on the day of the grounding while there was a storm 1,000 nautical miles south of Mauritius, weather conditions do not appear to have disrupted vessels around where the Wakashio was at the time.

What also remains unclear is the decision taken by the Wakashio to deviate course on July 21. Vessel tracking from Splash partner MarineTraffic clearly shows that early in the morning of July 21, the newcastlemax, owned by Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping, changed route, putting it on a collision course with the pristine shores of the island republic of Mauritius.

As Splash has earlier reported, the coast guard in Mauritius had tried in vain to contact the ship’s captain for an hour on the evening of July 25 to warn that its routing looked dangerous. When finally coast guard officials got through to the master, the captain insisted the planned route was safe. A few minutes later, however, the ship radioed local authorities to say the vessel had grounded on a reef.

The ship’s insurer, Japan P&I Club, its facing one of the biggest pay-outs in recent years for all the damage the spilt bunker fuel has done to the local environment and businesses.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. JAPAN PandI has a 250 million dollars reserve in cash.
    That is the only important “nature reserve” here.

  2. Jail the Captain and bridge crew. Totally unacceptable operations and irresponsible response to the Port and Coast Guard. If an automobile driver ignores signage and a warning from the Police, has an an accident and causes damage, jail should result. This is the same thing, but worse due to size and degree of impact.

    1. You are a complete inept who does not know the difference between a navigation error and a handling error.

      1. Should not be on a bridge of a cape but on the street selling peanuts, If responsibility dodging is your moto.

    2. What is your background and experience to make this statement. It sounds to me rhat you have zero knowledge of seagoing or shiphandling
      There is insufficient information to make any comment. That will come out at the court of enquiry when it is done. The court will be headed by qualifed people who have all the information to hand.

  3. It seems like someone might be telling porkies. “various maneuvers” – The ship hadn’t changed course for about 5 days. “adverse weather” – Weather records show there was only a 10mph wind at Mahébourg on the evening of the 25th.

    1. They received meteo and decided to change course closer to Africa, and 5 days proceeding with this course. Maybe… What’s happens near reef, why not properly observe?

  4. This is the exact reason I have for many years recommended double-hull around the bunker tanks in ships….because there is the worst content if a spill occurs. actually more important than double hull on a crude tanker as new crude oil is less polluting than bunker oil!!

  5. Regarding the decision taken by the Wakashio to deviate course on July 21: Charterers usually hire weather routeing services. Ask to MOL if they use it, because probably there is the answer.

  6. The government of Mauritius waisted 12 days, what were they doing? Wakashio grounded on the reef on July 25, but oil leakage began 12 days later. Immediately after the incident the ship onwer arranged Dutch salvage teams but why weren’t local authorities using their tugboats?
    Grounding is one thing but oil spill disater is a separate man made disaster that could have been avoided had Mauritian government and her authorities taken prompt action.

    1. Are you aware how much bollard pull is required to get this vessel moving?
      May be not such a powerfull tug available.
      It is eazy to comment after why and what.
      Obviously mistakes and or malfunction did taken place.
      Possible plan B did not work or been implemented.
      Groundings will happen in years to come for whatever reason, sadly.

    2. Wakashio ran aground on 25/8/20 at 1930 two hours after low tide on first quarter moon cycle and was perpendicular to the reef with propellor and rudder in deeper water.Next full moon high tide was on 5/8/20.Vessel could have came loose at that time and winds and currents then turned the vessel sideways broadside on to the reef, causing further damage.Had a tug been comissionned just to hold the stern into the prevailing weather conditions,the issue might have been different.At the time of grounding ,the weather was fine with,good visibility.I look forward to a proper enquiry to clear all the bullshit that are being spread.

      1. Capt. I passed Mauritius on 24th July with a fully laden VLCC and I can assure you the weather was quite bad and we also have a weather routing service and as per their forecast it was wind force 7 and 5-6m waves for the whole area and several days around that date so I have no idea where this Windward is getting their information that weather was good.

  7. Sam Chambers,
    The reply of Panama is very inconsistent to the AIS records of Wakashio from the day of leaving China on the 4th of July, as indeed the initial destination for Wakashio was AUPHE – P{ort of Hedland, Australia and it called for an estimated time of arrival to be on the 18 July at 01h00
    Furthermore, on the 13th of Jule, Wakashio changed its destinaiton to Singapore, docked for a few hours, then set the destination of Tubarao, Brazail… and the rest is all black as we are facing here in Mauritius.

    I am unsure that this link will work, but indeed I have done my best to retrace all the steps of Wakashio since it left China, L’express has published the 19min powerpoint video (No audio). You will have more details from this link on our local news paper website
    https://www.lexpress.mu/video/381326/trajet-mv-wakashio-retrace-un-informaticien

    Feel free to share, and hope that this helps everyone understand what happened from a recorded data point of view

    Best regards,

    Sebastien Lenette

  8. Wx is no excuse for grounding unless its engine faliure.As no response to shore who was trying to raise the ship on VHF etc – no response shows bridge was not manned properly due reason best known to OOW/MASTER.

  9. I cannot see how wind force 7 and 5-6 mtrs sea should be a problem…and create such a disaster as this. Have we not, all of us working at sea, been in such weather very often?? The use of radar and nav charts and other means of navigational aid seems to have been ”forgotten ”…?!
    Quite a strange and somewhat suspicious accident to me…?

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