Wakashio’s Captain and First Officer Sentenced to 20 Months in Jail 

jail for officers of Wakashio in grounding and oil spill case
Wakashio in the first days after the grounding (Panama Registry photo)

Published Dec 27, 2021 1:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

A court in Mauritius sentenced both the captain and first officer of the Japanese bulker Wakashio to 20 months in prison after they pleaded guilty on the charges of endangering safe navigation. While the magistrate hearing the case refused to limit the sentences to time served, the two men are expected to go free shortly after having been in jail for nearly 16 months.

The magistrate said that the court believed the sentences were fully warranted and hoped that they would serve as a lesson for the officers and a deterrent for the future. 

"The court took into consideration the fact that both defendants pleaded guilty and apologized,” said magistrate Ida Dookhy Rambarrun, reports AFP which had a reporter in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing on December 27. "The captain and his second in command were irresponsible and did not deliver as they should on their navigational duties." 

Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, captain of the Wakashio, was taken into custody shortly after the vessel went aground on July 25, 2020. He reportedly attempted to break out of the prison last summer. In court, he admitted to drinking on the day of the accident and accepted responsibility for the grounding, which later caused the 203,000 dwt bulker to split in two and release 1,000 tons of fuel into the environmentally sensitive waters.

The magistrate rejected calls for remission of the sentence, which would have reduced it to the time served. She reported that she had considered the guilty pleas as well as the otherwise clean record of the two defendants and personal circumstances. The first officer of the Wakashio, Hitihanillage Subhoda Janendra Tilakaratna, had appealed to the court last week for clemency saying that he had not seen his family in nearly 18 months.

Under Mauritian law, however, the prison authorities also have the power to reduce the sentences and the lawyer for the captain noted that the combination of the time spent in prison and the power of remission meant that he believed both individuals should be released. The BBC is reporting the captain might go free as early as tomorrow, while the first officer was likely to be released in mid-January.

No one else was charged with any crimes related to the accident. The Wakashio’s crew however had remained in Mauritius to serve as possible witnesses in the trial and there were calls for additional charges related to the sinking of a tugboat that was being used during the salvage operation.

Removal of the Wakashio has largely been completed. The forward section was towed out to sea and sunk in the weeks following the grounding while removal of the stern section was undertaken by a salvage company. The last pictures from the site showed the vessel reduced to a small keel section and her motor that they were in the process of removing.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, which was the charterer of the vessel at the time of the accident, continues to fulfill the commitments it made to the island in addition to revising its shipboard and supervision process after the incident. On December 10, the MOL Charitable Trust, which was established in Mauritius in June 2021, announced its intent to fund 26 projects led by NGOs and other local organizations. MOL reported that it received more than 100 proposals during the first call for grant applications. It will award up to approximately $23,000 per project as part of its efforts to contribute to restoring and protecting the natural environment of Mauritius and supporting the nation. Separately, the vessel’s insurers recently agreed to fund payments for the fishing industry that was damaged by the oil spill.