Nairobi, Kenya — The captain and first officer of a ship that struck a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius last year and spilled toxic fuel in the worst environmental disaster in the island nation’s recent history has pleaded guilty to endangering safe navigation .
The spill was an environmental disaster for Mauritius, an Indian Ocean nation off the coast of East Africa famous for its stunning beaches and lagoons. It destroyed the livelihoods of fishermen and tourism workers and threatened biodiversity hot spots, including major snorkeling and diving areas.
According to Mr Tillakaratna’s counsel, Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and First Officer, Subodh Tillakaratna filed their pleas in a hearing at the Intermediate Court in the capital Port Louis on Monday. Mr Nandeshwar had admitted to drinking alcohol during a party on board the ship, which had 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of fuel oil, when it crashed in July 2020.
But the charges – for “endangering the safe navigation of the ship or likely to cause interference or annoyance to other persons on board” – are among the mildest criminal ones under Mauritian law, and both are expected to be released soon. Chances are, lawyer Amira Piru said.
These offenses carry a fine of Rs 50,000, up to $1,140, or a maximum prison sentence of two years. But since both men were denied bail following their arrests in August 2020, both will be deemed free after completing their prison terms and sentenced on December 27, Ms Piru said.
“Confessions will allow them to go back to their families and avoid a lengthy criminal trial,” she said in an interview.
Mauritius’s Ministry of the Environment and the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
After the ship – MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned, Panama-flag carrier – ran aground, its hull broke, leaking 1,000 tons of poisonous fuel.
Grassroots cleanup efforts grew rapidly, as Mauritius and others created a boom from hair and clothes to contain the oil, launched social media campaigns to create awareness, and raised thousands of dollars to support volunteers. . At least three people died during the clean-up efforts, officials said.
Authorities eventually sank the vessel, despite protests from activists who were concerned that it would worsen pollution of areas with diverse coral and fish species. In the coming months, the carcasses of more than 50 whales and dolphins washed ashore, according to environmental group Greenpeace, in what was seen as the government’s inaction in the investigation into the ship’s derailment.
The government promised to get to the root of the crisis, and set up a body to study what happened. Findings are still pending.
On Tuesday, officials announced that the ship’s insurer, the Japan P&I Club, would pay nearly 825 fishermen and 174 fishermen each from $2,550 plus 112,000.
Some Mauritians remained dissatisfied on Tuesday, demanding more disclosure from their government as well as a plan to avert future disasters in fragile maritime regions.
“These court proceedings didn’t get to the bottom of things,” environmental activist Reuben Pillay said. “We still have zero answers.”