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Report: Wakashio's Master Attempted to Escape From Prison

petit verger
Image courtesy Government of Mauritius

Published Aug 29, 2021 8:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The master of the wrecked bulker Wakashio, which went aground off the coast of Mauritius last year, has allegedly attempted to escape from a special COVID-positive detention center in Port Louis.

Officials told L'Express that 12 inmates at the Petit-Verger prison - which has been turned into a holding site for COVID-positive prisoners - had hatched a plan to escape by removing some of the bars in two dormitory areas. The plot was foiled by an alert prison guard who spotted the missing bars during a patrol. 

By the time the prison break was detected, four inmates had already gotten out of the gap, according to L'Express. Twelve individuals in total were involved in the plot, and prison officials told the outlet that Capt. Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar - the former master of the Wakashio - was allegedly among the planners.

Capt. Nandeshwar's case has a high profile in Mauritius because the vessel's grounding may well have been the nation's worst environmental disaster to date. The bulker went aground on a reef off Mahebourg, Mauritius on July 25, 2020, and despite salvage and debunkering efforts, she spilled an estimated 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the pristine waters of an adjacent coral lagoon. Wave action hindered cleanup efforts and put additional stress on the ship's hull, and she broke in two about three weeks after going aground. Her bow section was towed away and sunk, and wreck-removal efforts for her stern began in February 2021. Extended periods of poor weather during Mauritius' winter season have hampered this effort, and the stern section remains at the site of the grounding. 

The government of Mauritius has launched a criminal inquiry into the cause of the grounding. Capt. Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and Chief Officer Tilakaratna Subodha were arrested shortly after the incident, and in August 2020 they were charged with endangering safe navigation. They have been detained in prison since their arrest without bail. Capt. Nandeshwar recently tested positive for COVID-19, and he was transferred to Petit-Verger Prison for quarantine. 

Mauritius' law enforcement authorities are also preventing the rest of the vessel's crew from leaving the country, according to the International Transport Workers' Federation. Even those who have not been charged are not being permitted to return home, ITF says, perhaps in an effort to have them present to testify at a trial. Some of them had already been on board Wakashio for more than 12 months due to the crew change crisis and have now been away from their families for over two years.