Dry CargoOperations

Wakashio master: ‘I was under the influence of alcohol’

Further bombshells have been unearthed in the ongoing court proceedings looking into the Wakashio grounding off Mauritius.

Senior personnel including the chief engineer and the master of the infamous newcastlemax have been answering questions at a court in Mauritius this week.

Sri Lankan chief officer Hitinamillage Tilakaratna Subodha told the court last week told that the master had diverted the ship’s course to get closer to the Mauritian coastline in search of a wifi internet connection, something he did regularly around the world.

For his part, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwa, the ship’s Indian captain, has tried to shift the blame onto his first officer, while admitting he had been drinking.

There was negligence across the board and from all levels

“I was under the influence of alcohol and [Subodha] was in command of the ship,” Nandeshwa told the court, explaining that there had been a birthday party for a crewmember onboard on the day of the ship’s grounding last July.

Former judge Abdurrafeek Hamuth, who is chairing the Court of Investigation into the accident, told the captain: “You shouldn’t have consumed so much alcohol. There was negligence across the board and from all levels. You were also negligent.”

Earlier this week Nandeshwa had also admitted that no one had been on lookout at the time the ship grounded.

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.

A Chinese salvage team is this week attempting to remove the stern of the ship from the reef it has been stuck on for the last seven months. The front three quarters of the giant bulk carrier were towed 30 km offshore and scuttled last year.

In September last year, Mauritius demanded Japan pay $34m in reparations for the accident, widely believed to be the single worst ecological disaster to hit the Indian Ocean island.

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. The Master can’t simply announce he’s had too much to drink and “the Chief Officer is in Command”. It doesn’t work like that. It’s a pretty craven attempt to shift the blame onto the Chief Officer, who alleges that the Master was drunk. Haven’t we all had enough of these two deck officers? Their lawyers will continue to tease out little wrinkles that throw the blame elsewhere. MOL’s report will serve to protect MOL. Panama’s report will serve to protect the Panamanian register. What we have here is an abysmally-managed ship which ended up on Mauritius’s reef because the Master wasn’t doing his job. He sets the tone for the entire ship.lf he allows people to wander off the bridge during a watch that is a pretty good clue as to what kind of ship he’s running. In the end the ship made a landfall and ran aground because he wasn’t attentive to his primary duty, which is the protection of the ship and it’s crew. These two clowns should never have been allowed near a ship. Just convict and move on!

    1. Or as we are being led to believe. Ships command is an easy Target. What happened to ISM and STcW code here?

      How long has he been sailing? 40 years..
      Command experience probably 20 years,

      Audits / inspections / seminars / debriefing and performance appraisals – probably 500++.

      If he could get though all this to finally get caught aground, someone totally independent, unbiased and knowledgeable should be appointed to check the Manning policies of those who employed the Master in the first place. I hope they were not asleep as well.

      1. Here we go again. Blaming the company’s Manning policies, etc. Pleading the Master’s 40 years of seafaring, and 20 years in command, is no defence, more a condemnation. How did such an experienced Master get it wrong? Can’t you understand all this means nothing once he’s put a ship aground, which is what he did? We’re judged only on what we did today or yesterday, once the grounding has happened. I understand the strong desire to come to the assistance of a fellow national or professional colleague, but don’t let it blind you to the facts. I see a great deal of emotional here, but little acknowledgement of the facts.

  2. The Swiss Cheese checklist:-

    Too close to the the coast? Check

    No lookout? Check.

    No amended passage plan? Check

    Too many unwanted people on the Bridge? Check

    No position fixing? Check.

    Everyone on the mobile phone? Check.

    Master under the influence of alcohol? Check.

    What’s that vibration? is that your phone?
    No, not my phone!!!!!

  3. Vaya !!!!….parece que queremos ver culpables a montones, se enjuicia una negligencia o una avería imprevisible,el sentido común nos dice lo que está bien y mal y aveces parece que las.culpas de uno se blanquean culpabilizando a todos,pues que festivaleros,que tripulantes más contentos con su sino,nunca he visto tanto festejo por un.cumple, si que algun tripulante se ponía a tope y algún Oficial calentito, pero bueno…actitudes propias de personas comunes a todos los.humanos.

  4. Muy bonito ….celebraciones a tope,el barco solo,borrachos todos, cuando llegan al puerto que hacen?…duermen y descansan !!…jo-er haber si se llenan las escuelas que no tenemos donde cojer o mejor dicho captar. Hay que seguir con los topicos de la profesión, lo demás no mola, no interesa.
    Antes se decia: hágase Marino Mercante,
    Visitará países exóticos, turista pagado….
    Y así sucesivamente. ..¡.De asco !

  5. Great stuff, pikeman and hans. Why are contributors constantly introducing elements which have nothing to do with his competency. There is a ship. it goes aground. Somebody is employed to make sure it doesn’t go aground, and everybody’s making excuses for him. Your checklist sums it all up. i don’t care how many years experience he has. He’s only as good as his command today, and he screwed up. ISM and STCW have nothing to do with it. Anuj above seems to first exonerate him, then condemn him. if l were in his shoes i’d feel pretty rotten because i’d know i’d screwed up, and only me. Of course i should have got that pesky CO under control, and made him keep his watch properly, and never mind the wifi. Any Master worth his licence would have asserted control of his officers, and supervised them closely when birthday parties are being held. if we start making excuses we’ll be lowering our expectations of other Masters too. How many strange groundings have occurred which can, in retrospect, be attributable to the practice of seeking wifi signals. He’s done it enough himself in the past. My final observation is that a crew does not respond positively to a weak Master. i don’t advocate tyranny nor abuse, but a firm, confident, and positive hand and presence go a long way when morale is slipping.That is what this shipped lacked, and now we see the consequences!

    1. Spot on Capt.
      All apologists must be annihilated without mercy, so they will not rise their ugly heads again. Man has to have the courage to face the music. Some, simply do not understand, what a Master is, as their knowledge about ship Master is encapsulated in ISM code puny ,ridiculous and offending all Masters item 5.- Master’s Responsibility and Authority.

      That item, was specially designed for those, who lack the will power, skills and understanding to negotiate through at least 3000 pages of publications written by the best legal minds .Needless to say , the price tag for this literature may be a very intimidating and discouraging factor to seek the truth about what Master Mariner is and what are his obligations and duties and role in shipping and trade.

  6. Difficult to have any sympathy. Probably skated through sea-going promotions for years without competence ever being questioned. I meet about 150 Masters each year and of quite a few of them I leave the ship saying it’s an accident waiting to happen. However, I also blame the so-called superintendent. He can’t have so many ships that he can’t monitor where they are and what they are doing. This one altered course for no apparent reason and was on a beeline for trouble about five days before its demise. No one from shore looking and wondering?

  7. The circumstances and cause of this incident demonstrate the regrettable need for 24/7 real time video surveillance of bridge activities and ship position tracking by shore based personnel. In short, ‘big brother is watching you’. This process is common is the cruise industry (e.g. Carnival Cruises) and is now spreading to the cargo carrying sector as a high quality ship management function. The Wakashio disaster will no doubt serve this accelerate this shore surveillance process, along with a consequent reduction in the Master’s authority. Unfortunate but apparently now necessary in a world where ships’ officers apparently spend more time looking at their mobile phones than out the bridge windows.

Back to top button