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Mauritius comes under pressure to release Wakashio crew held for a year without charge

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is among a host of organisations calling for the immediate release and repatriation of the Wakashio crew who have been held by Mauritian authorities now for over a year.

“This week marks the one year anniversary of the grounding of the MV Wakashio and the environmental catastrophe associated with it. This week also marks one year since the Mauritian authorities have held members of the crew and prevented them from leaving the republic, most have been effectively detained without charge,” said David Heindel, ITF Seafarers’ Section chair.

Heindel said the ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions have “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew of the Wakashio by Mauritian authorities. He said the federation last week wrote to the president of the republic of Mauritius, Prithvirajsing Roopun.

Seafarers are being cynically targeted all over the world by officials just for doing our jobs

“While, in a particular context, criminal charges against seafarers may be justified, it is important that people have access to justice and are treated fairly. Access to justice and fair treatment by the authorities are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe the treatment experienced by the crew of the Wakashio violates their human rights,” said Heindel.

Following the grounding of the Wakashio, Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and chief officer Tilakaratna Subodha were arrested by Mauritian authorities. On August 18 they were charged with endangering safe navigation. The pair have been detained in prison since their arrest and have been denied bail. Most of the remainder of the crew have been detained under house arrest and kept in a local hotel, seemingly on the grounds that they may be required to appear as witnesses in a trial that has yet to commence. Some of these seafarers have not seen their families for more than two years.

“Criminalisation of seafarers is on the rise. Whether it is felt by the crew of the Wakashio who were effectively detained without charge, or the drawn-out threat of criminal charges against the Ever Given crew to bolster the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating position over damages: seafarers are being cynically targeted all over the world by officials just for doing our jobs,” said Heindel.

One year on from the grounding, 2020’s most high profile shipping accident, the flag state, Panama, has yet to make its accident investigation report public.

Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) was the charterer of the Wakashio, a 300 m long giant of the seas, owned by Nagashiki Shipping. En route to Brazil from Asia, the ship diverted from its course, running aground on pristine coral reefs just off southern Mauritius on July 25. The bulk carrier would go on to spill around 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel. The Wakashio then split in two.

In a release from December last year announcing measures to prevent another reoccurrence of a Wakashio style disaster, MOL gave 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. The reason cited, according to the release, was “to enter an area within the communication range of mobile phones”. Moreover, MOL revealed 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.

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.


  1. This seems unnecessarily harsh. Who is supporting their families back home? Are they still on pay? I doubt it. They should at least be able to leave sworn depositions in response to questions the court may have, from either side. This is not rocket science. The questions to be asked to establish the obvious are not complex. The Master is in Command of the ship and fully responsible for the actions of the officers under his supervision. The Master cannot transfer his command responsibility. He can only delegate it, subject to maritime law, company regulations and his own standing orders. That has been true for centuries. There is no ‘break’ for the Master, no off-watch time. He is responsible for the safe conduct and navigation of the ship from when he joins to when he leaves. That this Master should claim, after a long career in command, that he handed the ship over to the Chief Officer can only be so much Blarney. The ship was making a land fall. Where was he? At a party? Why wasn’t he on the bridge? Did he know where the ship was? I suspect his pointless attempt to shift the blame elsewhere is adding to the crews’ prolonged detention. How about flying their families out at the court’s expense? Fat chance!

  2. Captain smit not only the master .but all of them should be responsible.and i disagree of ift for helping the crew of wakashio..

  3. What a load of utter rubbish! Who in their right mind is saying: it’s ok to break any maritime law (at the captains discretion). It’s ok to go off a charted course in a giant vessel, with thousands of tonnes of lethal fuel on board. It’s ok to skirt up against an island with the vessel, contravening countless laws, ignore multiple attempts from the island’s officials to correct an extremely dangerous situation (one can go on and on..), and when the obvious happens, all those professionals responsible escape via a human rights ‘back door’! Do the islanders have any human rights? How much long term, or worse, irreparable damage has been done to their pristine island and also their health? Not to mention countless livelihoods and incalculable coral reef devastation? No one can yet fathom the full extent of the damage done. I think I’ve made my point! We need to slam the full power of the law at this. We need to send an unambiguous message! It must be absolutely clear that anyone involved in these kind of dangerous, unprofessional and shockingly selfish activities, will wish that they hadn’t. How can anyone suggest that the behaviour of these sailors was anything better than that of drunk teenagers throwing caution to the wind along with the safety of everyone and everything around them? It seems obvious that all those crying “human rights”, live on the other side of the world and saw a red dot on a map then read about how the the perpetrators were utterly violated and should all be given a warm bath and a massage and sent home with some shiny shells and lots of compensation for all their suffering (paid for by the Mauritiun tax payers). Next they’ll be requesting a new ship fully refuelled… after all, the bloody Mauritiun public spent every ounce of resources and energy sucking all their oil up. They should have the “rights” to claim it back!
    This is a good lesson for the whole world. We cannot logically continue with this simplistic mindset. So next time you want to appraise a book, don’t just look at the dramatic picture on the cover… read the whole book!!
    I think it’s safe to say that my view is echoed by all those who call Mauritius their home.
    I hope and pray that now, you understand.

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