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Poor seamanship cited in Wakashio investigations

The Panama Maritime Authority has hit out at the level of seamanship onboard the Anglo-Eastern crew managed Wakashio in the hours leading to its grounding on a reef off Mauritius on July 25, creating one of the island republic’s greatest ever ecological disasters.

The Panama-flagged Nagashiki Shipping newcastlemax leaked more than 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel and split in two following its grounding.

Panamanian authorities have given an update into their ongoing accident investigation, having interviewed most of the crew.

The registry has been able to ascertain that the Wakashio’s crew, in the afternoon of July 25, celebrated the birthday of one of the crewmembers.

Furthermore, the ship deviated from its approved navigation plan. The crew have told investigators that ship came closer to the Mauritian coastline as the captain – now in jail with the first officer – sought a telephone and internet signal in order for the crew to communicate with their families.

The captain, the chief engineer and the first officer were on the navigation bridge when the situation of approaching land occurred as evidenced by the ship’s ECDIS.

“With an appropriate assessment safeguard and with good seamanship practices, that should have generated an analysis which would have allowed to carry out the pertinent actions to correct this situation,” the Panama Maritime Authority noted in an update.

The investigators also believe the ship did not have the right chart onboard. Moreover, the wrong chart was used and with the wrong scale as well.

“The lack of supervision and monitoring of the navigation equipment, the distraction generated by the officer of watch, who lost the course of navigation completely, and the excess of confidence during the watch, could be some of the reasons that caused the ship running aground in the beaches of Mauritius,” the Panama Maritime Authority stated.

Initially, in the days following the accident, the Panama flag had suggested the accident happened during bad weather, something that was later disproved.

The investigations continue. The Panamanian delegation in Mauritius is expected to interview the captain, the first officer, and have access to the voyage data recorder and essential documents for the investigation, which are in the custody of the local police.

The captain of the ship Wakashio, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, and his chief officer, Hitihamillage Subodha Janendra Tilakaratna, yesterday requested release on bail. They have been held in police custody for the last 22 days charged with “endangering safe navigation”.

The Wakashio is one of six bulk carriers in the Nagashiki fleet. The vessel was crew managed by Hong Kong’s Anglo-Eastern Group, which has a close relationship with the shipowner going back to the days of the manager’s founder, Peter Nash. The vessel was on charter to Mitsui OSK Lines and was headed to Brazil at the time of the accident.

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. Right or wrong.About time someone take action on Ship crew exchanges in foreign ports.With some extreem covid rules applied.Some crew exceeding their contract terms by many months.

  2. Funny a ship try to come close to an island for wifi.
    More funny is the Mauritian authorities with their lack of professionalism to tackle the breach of a ship in their territory. What if it was carrying terrorist or drugs?

  3. The Panamanian Authorities’ words are meaningless gibberish. As was evidenced by their initial assertion that the grounding was due to “bad weather”, their sole and primary concern is to defend the “good” name of their “flag of convenience”, and the tonnage money it earns. I’d send them packing. I have had a lifetime of trying to bring the f.o.c.phenomenon to some sort of accountability.
    For those interested in the “cause” of an accident, there is first the “proximate cause”, which in this case is human error, demonstrated by the de facto unmanned wheelhouse. Agents of the proximate cause are, first, the Master, and second, the OOW. A “contributory cause” would be the desire to make a close pass to Mauritius for that 4G signal, and further, the birthday party being held below, which seems to have distracted the master and OOW from their duties. Mostly it is only necessary to cite the “proximate cause“ and it’s actors. Subsidiary and contributing causes need be cited only to give background and context.
    To the various Masters from the Indian sub-continent who attacked me as though l were traducing the high standard of the Indian Certificate of Competency and Indian seafarers, l can only say that l did not make the Master of the “Wakashio” an Indian. I will forego demanding an apology. It would be churlish of me to ask for one.

  4. It’s difficult to digest that ship came close to get mobile signal while having satcom WiFi onboard. Mobile signal can be assessed only if you have Mauritius SIM card. These cards expire after a month of not being recharged. Since vessel never came to Mauritius, no one would have this card valid. Using other sim card in international roaming is too expensive. There must be some other reason. Maybe to have a thrill . And using wrong chart.

  5. While grounding happened due to ships staff stupidity, oil spill happened due to inaction of all authority ashore

  6. I have been at sea as able seaman for 30 years and I would have done a better job to keep the ship safe.
    The ship ran aground with 4 persons onboard having navigation licenses. Just unacceptable.

  7. The key evidence in respect of cause appears to be that the vessel was not being navigated on an ECDIS chart that provided sufficient detail for safe passage at a much closer distance off Mauritius than had been planned during the original voyage planning process. There is no acceptable excuse for this regulatory breach as the appropriate chart should have been readily available for download subject to the usual licensing arrangements. As to the ECDIS chart which was being used, Panama advises that it was being displayed and used for navigation on the wrong scale. The result seems to have been an ECDIS assisted grounding and there have been numerous reported incidents of this nature. In many cases, the underlying problem has proved to be the inadequate ECDIS training of the master and deck officers in concert with an over reliance on GPS. No doubt the salvage/wreck removal companies have been delighted by the monetary benefits brought to them by this new technology and its on-going misuse. My advice? If you want to know where you’re going, start by switching off your mobile phone and then practice looking out through the bridge window.

    1. Yes! ECDIS chart or paper, wrong scale or not, look at the numerous photos all over the internet. There are large steep mountainous terrain which would have been seen for miles, if anyone had glanced out a forward window … ANY window of the ship’s house!!! Radar??? Land would have been noticed, of course, if the radars were even turned on and being looked at by individuals on the bridge.
      Clearly the entire incident was about a ship with nobody on the bridge, maybe for hours, while she steamed directly towards shore, not hearing radio calls from shoreside you warn them. The ship grounded at 90 degrees to a reef at full speed in broad daylight. Incomprehensible.

      1. After they grounded Coastguard said the crew disappeared. Subsequently they were arrested and placed in quarantine as Mauritius is COVID free.
        I asked who would get the salvage. Coastguard said a company in Holland had been appointed. Mauritius is only cleared for salvage up to a certain class of authorities in Mauritius were not able to intervene.
        Suspicion varies between drliberare sabotage and a drug run

  8. It is too early to comment what resulted in grounding?
    Hope investigators are considering following
    1. Since reports reveal that there was a birthday party going on board. Was bridge team was subjected to drug / alcohol test once they were rescued.
    2. What about VDR capsule and data? Was it retrieved? It can reveal valuable information.
    3. Most of the companies around the world are providing free internet facilities on board their vessels as part of basic crew welfare . The communication cost has substantially reduced in these modern times. If it was not the fact on this ship then it’s pity that crew had to depend on terrestrial signals for getting in touch with their families. IMO/MLC should come up to make these basic facilities mandatory on board all sea going vessels as lesson learnt from this disaster.
    4. How about licensed rating on watch at the time of incident who must have been on duty in hours of darkness. Why he is not being discussed.
    5. Master approves the passage plan and officers on watch are required to execute as planned. Was the deviation challenged by OOW even if it would have been instructed by the master as it involves endangering the vessel safety.
    6. Vessel has been trading safely all around the world and had recently transited most dense traffic lanes of singapore / malacca straits. This tells officers on board were competent.
    7. Seems it was already planned on 21st July when vessel first altered course to stbd to pass close to islands in of view getting phone signal.
    8. There is strong possibility that next alteration point (Way point) after 21st July was laid close to the islands to do a planned coastal navigation close enough to be in network range.
    9. Since course was laid close to the island crew Confirmed on VHF that vessel will past clear and for some reason the vessel did not alter her course on time and ended up on reefs.

    Above are all speculations and Let’s wait for investigation reports to be released by the authorities

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