Mauritius has arrested the Indian captain and the first officer of the Japanese ship that spilled over 1,000 tonnes of oil after hitting a coral reef, forcing the island nation that is dependent on tourism to declare an environmental emergency due to the risk posed to its fragile ecosystem.
Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, the captain, has been charged with endangering safe navigation. He will be in custody till the hearing on his bail application next week.
The local police will question other crew members of MV Wakashio, spokesperson Inspector Siva Coothen said.
He said attempts by the coast guard to get in touch with the ship after it went off course before hitting the reefs had been unsuccessful.
“The route set five days before the crash was wrong and the boat navigation system should have signalled that to the crew and it seems the crew ignored it,” Coothen said. It did not send an SOS after hitting the reefs and “did not respond to attempts by the coastguard to get in touch,” the official said.
The official said the crew members were questioned about reports that they were having a birthday party on board. He, however, said the police could not ascertain if the party was on when the mishap happened or if it took place earlier in the day.
MV Wakashio is owned by Nagashiki Shipping of Japan. It was carrying 4,000 tonnes of oil when it ran aground on July 25. On August 6, oil started leaking through the cracks the vessel developed due to the constant pounding of huge waves after it ran aground. Over 1,000 litres of oil were split into the Mahebourg Lagoon, one of the most pristine marine ecosystems in the world, affecting a large area of coral reefs and other marine life. The remaining 3,000 litres were pumped out of the ship.
Many countries, including France and Japan, are helping clean up the oil spill. Mauritius has sought damages from the shipping company.
Environmentalists believe the disaster may have caused irreparable damages to the reefs in the affected region. They have also objected to the plan of the authorities to tow away a part of the ship — the bow — into the sea and let it sink in an area that is frequented by whales for reproduction.