Panama: Before Grounding, Wakashio Deviated from Course to Pick Up Cell Signal for Birthday Celebration

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Panama: Before Grounding, Wakashio Deviated from Course to Pick Up Cell Signal for Birthday Celebration

September 9, 2020 by Mike Schuler

A general view shows the bulk carrier ship MV Wakashio, that ran aground on a reef, at Riviere des Creoles, Mauritius, in this handout image obtained by Reuters on August 10, 2020. French Army command/Handout via REUTERS

The Panama Maritime Authority has officially joined the investigation into the grounding of the MV Wakashio in Mauritius, revealing new details about the final voyage.

According to the AMP and based on information that is available, the ship made a course change on July 25 prompted by a crew member’s birthday that would take the vessel within 5 miles of Mauritius, close enough to pick up cell phone and internet signals.

The MV Wakashio grounded off Mauritius’ Pointe d’Esny at approximately 1925 LT, about an hour and a half after the last position was recorded in the ship’s ECDIS, the AMP said.

Satellite AIS ship tracking from the Wakashio’s fateful voyage, previously reported in the media, showed the vessel adjusted course on July 21 at 0200, putting the vessel on a crash with the island. The AMP’s statement this week did not address this course change, only the one on July 25 before the grounding, although it does note that the investigation is still in the data collection phase.

Wakashio’s Captain, Chief Engineer and Chief Officer were all on the bridge when the approach occurred, according to the AMP.

Attempts by the Mauritian coast guard to contact the vessel were unsuccessful until after the grounding.

Wakashio’s Captain and Chief Officer have been arrested and charged with “endangering safe navigation” under the country’s Piracy and Maritime Violence Act and remain in custody in Mauritius.

The AMP says proper seamanship should have allowed plenty of time to take appropriate action to correct the ship’s course and avoid the accident. Attempts by the Mauritian Coast Guard to contact the vessel were unsuccessful until after the grounding.

The AMP has also revealed the chart displayed on the Wakashio’s ECDIS was the wrong chart and wrong scale.

“On the navigation bridge there were people with sufficient experience in assessing the problem. An erroneous appreciation of the Electronic Nautical Chart could also be verified, since it seems that the wrong chart was being used and with the wrong scale, which made it impossible to properly verify the approach to the coast and shallower waters,” the statement from the AMP said. The statement was provided in Spanish and translated using Google products.

“The lack of supervision and monitoring of the navigation equipment, the distraction generated when the officer of the watch totally loses the course of the navigation and an ‘excess of confidence’ during the watch, are indicated among the causes that could cause the grounding and sinking Partial vessel on a coral reef off Mauritius,” the statement added.

The AMP says it is now awaiting the results of interviews with the Wakashio’s Captain and Chief Officer. It has also requested access to the ship’s VDR and other “essential ship navigation documents”.

The Panama-flagged MV Wakashio was unladen (without cargo) but carrying around 4,000 tonnes of VLSFO bunker fuel and diesel when it grounded. The ship was initially stable, but constant wave action caused a breach of the vessel’s hull and oil spill on August 6.

An estimated 1,000 metric tons of oil was released into the environment before crews were able to plug the leak and remove any additional oil on board, according to the shipowner and manager Nagashiki Shipping Co. of Japan. The bow of the vessel has since been towed out to sea and scuttled.

The Wakashio incident comes as hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stranded at sea, working beyond their employment agreements due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government travel restrictions that have hampered crew changes across the globe. So far, it is not clear if the Wakashio’s crew was caught up in the crew change crisis.

The full statement from the Panama Maritime Authority can be found here.

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