Wakashio, hopefully the last in the series!

Wakashio is a large bulk carrier owned by Okiyo Maritime Corp and managed by Nagashiki Shipping. She was chartered by MOL and was on her way to Tubaru, Brazil to load, probably ore. She can carry about 200,000T of cargo, is 13 years old and operated by a company with a 150 year history. She left the port of Lianyungang on 4th of July. She stopped at Singapore on July 13th to refuel. She transited the Singapore and Malacca Straits safely and entered the Indian ocean around the 15th or so. That section of the Singapore straits and Malacca straits, between Horsburgh lighthouse and the One Fathom bank are difficult waters to navigate and it requires a certain level of competence and ability to do so. From there she was to be on a track that would take her south of Mauritius, Madagascar, round the Cape of Good Hope and then on a straight run course till the Brazilian coast. She altered course slightly northward on the 20th and maintained that till the unfortunate evening on 25th when she hit the reefs. The vessel then drifted north and then north north east along the coast before her stern hit the reef and ruptured her fuel tank on the 6th of August. Panama issued statements saying that the vessel had engaged in a series of manouvres to avoid heavy weather before she ran aground, Forbes and Lloyds list contradict this with their reports. The AIS track tweeted by Lloyds List matches that in the Forbes Article.

The owners and charterers were probably hopeful that nothing much would happen until the 7th of August. The ISM operator, Nagashiki shipping released their first official statements on 8th of August and the charterer is on 7th of August. Both the statements express regret, apolgoises and extends support. These statements come 12 days after the initial grounding.

When she ran aground, she had 3800MT of VLSFO and 200MT of DO. Of these 1180T had leaked out. The Mauritius government engaged two of their own tankers MT Elise GT 493)and MT Tresta Star (GT 2021 ) to remove the fuel. They also engaged helicopters that collected all the oil collected in drums. By 11th, they had removed 1020 MT of VLSFO into the smaller tankers. In their statement of 11th while MOL deplores the incident, they go onto define the role of a charterer " Charterer will rent the ship for a certain period of time, find the cargo to load onboard, and give orders to the ship to transport the cargo from one location to another. By 12th of August, they had transferred all the oil remaining onboard into smaller tankers. The crack on the hull has expanded again. They collected most of Lube oil and residual oil ( Approximately 100MT) by August 14th.

With the crack on the hull progressively deepening, it was now a matter of when she would break into two and so the salvage experts established a towage connection to the hull to control its drift whenever it broke away. The ITOPF was there monitoring the oil spill and the tide patterns. The crack in the cargo hold No. 8 to the stern side had progressed and caused the vessel to break into two around 1400 LT on 15th August.

The Wakashio was towed by Boka Expedition and Boka Summit approximately 13km south east of Mauritius. They filled her holds with water and scuttled her. There is a shroud of mystery around the scuttling with many wondering if that indeed was the best option. Greenpeace has expressed their unhappiness. The Wakashio is probably resting thousands of meters down in the Indian Ocean or is drifting along with the currents taking her away from where she was scuttled as you read this.

The statement from the Nagashiki says that "the forward part of the hull was successfully diverted and was towed to a water area designated by the authorities by a team of experts. At present, one tugboat is on board to watch out. We are confirming the future actions with the relevant authorities" by 00:30 on 19th August.

But Senior advisor of the Prime Minister's office @Ken_Arian was more direct when he tweeted that the "scuttling position of Wakashio and its conditions are in conformity with the advice of all international experts and will be in the presence of Marine Mammal Observers and Marine Mega Fauna Conservation at 20*22S depth 3,180m and is not a nursing ground for whales"Peter Sand, Chief Shipping Analyst at BIMCO, tweeted on 22nd confirming that the Wakashio has been scuttled 25km off Mauritius.

The Masters name was tweeted by a local journalist around the 14th of August. They were arrested by the local authorities on 18th August for jeopardising safe navigation. Others reports say they were charged under the Piracy and Maritime violence act. This act gives the police the power to arrest any person suspected of having committed an offence under this Act. While the lawyers maybe drafting what the offence was and how it could come under the juridisction of this act, if they are successful and the conviction can be upto 60 years in prison.

While a section of the press is asking questions of the administration and the IMO - rightly so- there is another that has gone onto build a narrative that is working on criminalising the seafarer. The master was arrested on the 19th. It reflects on the industry that we have not been able to do anything about criminalisation of seafarers for ever so long. After every such even there is a sense of desperation among the seafarers and a voices are raised. But this dies down soon as people get on with their lives until the next event.

In 1989, when the EXXON VALDEZ ran aground in Alaska, spilling around 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of the sound, Captain Hazelwood was criminally tried. This was probably the first high profile case of criminalisation of a seafarer.

2002: 67 year old Capt. Mangouras had decades of experience at sea. His ship was breaking. He asked for refuge in a port so he could save his ship and his crew. The port didn't relent. In extremely bad weather he struggled to connect a towline and also oversaw the evacuation of all his crew before he himself left the PRESTIGE. But when he stepped ashore he was in handcuffs and in jail. what a way to cap a long blemish free career after having done all that he could in the best way possible. It was over 2 years before he could leave Spain.

2003: Capt. Dimitvious who was in command of the TASMAN SPIRIT was called into the port of Karachi on a falling tide in a passage given to silting. She grounded while under pilotage and broke into two under the monsoons. Here they did not arrest just the master but also all the officers and the engineers. Even the salvage master wasn't spared. They spend about 8 months in Pakistan.

2007: Capt. Chawla's ship Hebei Spirit was lying at anchor waiting to unload the cargo they had carried for South Korea. A crane barge was towed out of port despite restrictions in outward movement imposed by the port because of the weather. The tow wire parted and the crane barge went loose. The rogue barge now hit the ships hull and caused it to leak. The Captain and his team did all they could possibly do on a fully laden tanker. While the lower courts acquitted them, poweful influence over the higher courts meant Capt. Chawla spent more than 18 months in South Korea.

2020: Captain Andrzej Lasota, Master of UBC Savannah, found cocaine in the ships cargo holds. He suspended cargo operations and reported this to the authorities as any good Master would. But he was charged for “alleged negligence in failing to be aware that the ship he commanded may have been carrying prohibited substances, said substances being illegally delivered to Mexico, placing the lives and health of the country’s citizens at risk”.

These are a few cases that show criminalisation maybe becoming the norm.

Even though the grounding may be a tortious liability, once there is pollution, it often turns criminal. The investigation could lead to criminal prosecution even when the incident has been caused by error in navigation or management of the vessel. And when the local population and livelihood is affected, the pressure on the local government to act is enormous. While very unfortunate, we should not be surprised that the government of the affected state acts by imprisoning whoever is proximally closest to them. But when they are charged under an act for Maritime attacks and Piracy which could attract upto 60 years in prison, we realise how vulnerable seafarers are in foreign (even friendly) jurisdictions that are under the influence of the global and local narrative.

What is scary is the narrative. The narrative is often driven by the final outcome. These narratives do influence the narrative in the final investigation report too. This was evident in the way the final investigation reports of the Costa Concordia and that of the US Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson drafted. Capt. Sullenberger himself maintained that had the landing gone wrong, he would not have been the hero that he became. The media hounded Capt Schettino of Costa Concordia and they searched for everything negative about him that they could find and it was available to read on every newspaper all over the world. The media - mainstream and social - already have narratives woven around the Wakashio. And these narrative won't help the cause of the Captain and the Chief Officer. Both of them must be having their own struggles. Their families could be having their own battles. You didn't need the media to be making it more difficult.

The livelihood of Mauritians have been irreversibly affected. The CLC convention 2001 may not even provide adequate compensation since the Wakashio was not a tanker. It is indeed a hard time for the local community and their pristine waters. The locals are in dire straits. While we could empathise with the Mauritian government for whatever they have done after the catastrophe that might affect them for decades, we need our government ( and that of Sri Lanka) to fulfill their responsibilities. The Resolution Res.1056/Rev.1 adopted at the 27th session of the IMO assembly lays down the guidelines for the Seafarers State. We hope that the Indian and Sri Lankan governments are doing all they can.

The resolution requires that they communicate with Mauritius and Panama ( maybe even Japan) and take steps to provide the seafarer's unions access to the seafarers. They should monitor their welbeing. They should fund the repatriation of the seafarers if necessary when shipowners fail in their obligation. They should cooperate with Mauritius and help with the investigation and judicial process. They should provide consular access to the seafarers. They should support fair treatment of the seafarers. They should ensure that any funds that is deposited for the support of these seafarers should reach the seafarer's families or is used for the intended purposes. They should ensure that there will be no retaliation or discrimination against them because of their participation in the investigations. I hope that the government is taking necessary measures to get the Captain and the Chief Officer home. Or if they have to stay back in Mauritius, then they should be treated with dignity and respect. The events of the past few months have brought attention to matters of governance and regulation in shipping. We have to give seafarers the confidence that they have the support of the industry and fellow seafarers. There is a difference between willful, reckless and deliberate acts and a mistake. Seafarers being charged under disproportionately harsh laws can cause them lose their livelihood and traumatise them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

There has been a series of seafarer criminalisation. I hope this becomes the last. For this, the industry should stop its obsession with root causes and embrace the new approach to safety that looks at functional resonance of systems and seeks to understand work as done. That approach which looks at people as the solution and not the problem. It should not be as easy to drop " Human Factors" or "Human Error" after every event. It won't be if investigations are approached differently.

  • Nagashiki Statements: https://www.nagashiki-shipping.jp/category/%e3%81%8a%e7%9f%a5%e3%82%89%e3%81%9b/)

  • MOL Statement: https://www.mol.co.jp/en/pr/2020/20042.html

  • https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/In-Wakashio-s-wake-Tracking-the-damage-from-Mauritius-oil-spill

  • https://vdata.nikkei.com/en/newsgraphics/wakashio

  • EQUASIS : http://www.equasis.org

  • http://environment.govmu.org/English/Pages/default.aspx

  • https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53819112

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/19/satellite-imagery-captures-wakashio-being-towed-toward-antarctica-as-mystery-of-ship-deepens/#f0d9f687eaf9

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/23/international-cover-up-fear-as-panama-drawn-into-wakashio-oil-spill-ship-controversy-in-mauritius/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/19/satellite-imagery-captures-wakashio-being-towed-toward-antarctica-as-mystery-of-ship-deepens/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/15/satellite-image-of-wakashio-shows-vessel-about-to-break-up-1280-meters-off-the-shore-of-mauritius/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/15/exclusive-satellite-image-captures-precise-moment-of-breakup-of-wakashio-off-coast-of-mauritius/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/18/macrons-interventions-backfire-as-mauritius-to-sink-the-wakashio-in-whale-nursing-grounds/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/09/how-satellites-traced-the-fateful-journey-of-the-ship-that-led-to--mauritius-worst-oil-spill-disaster/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/16/breaking-latest-radar-satellite-shows-wakashio-hull-broken-in-two/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/12/15-rare-species-in-danger-from-the-wakashio-oil-disaster-in-mauritius/

  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/nishandegnarain/2020/08/08/the-shipping-laws-that-could-have-averted-two-catastrophes-this-week/#278605a25790

  • Images: Civilians Mistake: https://www.marineinsight.com/maritime-law/criminalisation-of-seafarer/

  • Images: Handcuffed Seafarer: https://www.intermanager.org/2020/01/this-criminalisation-of-seafarers-must-be-stopped/


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