‘I was not responsible, because I was drunk and had handed over command to my first mate.’ That was the defence of the captain who, on 25 July last year, ran the huge ore carrier Wakashio into a reef off the island of Mauritius.

Mauritius Court of Inquiry chairman Abdurrafeek Hamuth was unimpressed with Indian captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar’s excuse. ‘You should not have drunk so much alcohol. There was negligence across the board and at all levels,’ he snapped at the man.

And things were not looking too good for Nandeshwar anyway. One of the crew members had his birthday that day, and to add to the festivities, it was decided to sail past Mauritius two miles away instead of twenty. This way, the partygoers would be able to let the home front share in the fun cheaply via a local mobile phone signal. This happened quite often, crew members declared in front of bewildered investigators.

No lookout

Even under these debauched circumstances, it would not have had to go wrong if there had just been a proper lookout. But that precaution was not taken either. If the electronic sea chart had been set to the right scale, the reef would probably still have been spotted in time as well. But as may be guessed, it was set to the wrong scale.

It cannot have been for lack of experience. The 59-year-old Nandeshwar has been sailing as a captain since he was 30 and he has commanded almost 25 ships since then. At the hearing, he stated that he had never had an accident. And he added that his wife is a private doctor and that he has two children, possibly to convince the court that he is conscientiously fulfilling his marital duties. But whether the court will not blame him for his role in a shipping disaster involving a wreck that broke in two and a serious oil spill can be doubted.

Picture by IMO.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.