Panama Cites Improper Charts and Poor Seamanship in Wakashio Accident

Panama cites wrong charts and poor seamanship from captain and officers of Wakashio
Wakashio shortly after it grounded on July 25 - courtesy of Government of Mauritius

Published Sep 8, 2020 6:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) issued the first statement of details on the grounding of the bulk carrier Wakashio in Mauritius in late July. While saying that its team in Mauritius is still in the data collection phase, AMP as the flag state for the ship confirmed many of the issues that had been speculated on as causes of the accident and provides significant new details regarding improper charts and poor seamanship.

AMP in its preliminary report says that the vessel diverted from its navigation plan approved at the time of sailing from Singapore bound for Brazil. According to AMP, through statements by the crew aboard the Wakashio, they determined that the captain ordered a change of course and approved approaching within five miles of Mauritius looking for a telephone and Internet signal.

The modification of the course, AMP, says could be related to the celebration of the birthday of one of the crew members. They confirm that they were attempting to get a signal from Mauritius so that the crew could communicate with their families.

The statement from AMP says for the first time that the captain of the ship, the chief engineer, and the first officer were on the navigation bridge when “this improper approach took place.” They also confirmed that Mauritius detected the change in the course, which previous reports said prompted repeated calls to the Wakashio from shore stations that went unanswered. AMP’s investigators believed that there were people with sufficient experience in assessing the problem on the navigation bridge in the moments leading up to the grounding.

The preliminary report details new issues including several failures in the navigation and operation of the Wakashio that contributed to the accident. AMP reports that it seems that the wrong chart was being used with the wrong scale on the Electronic Nautical Chart system, “which made it impossible to properly verify the approach to the coast and shallower waters, the researchers add in their preliminary report.”

The report goes on to cite, "a lack of supervision and monitoring of the navigation equipment, the distraction generated when the officer of the watch totally loses the navigation course, and an excess of confidence during the watch.” 

They conclude that “with a safeguard and applying good seamanship practices, an appropriate analysis of the situation would have allowed taking the pertinent actions to correct the course and avoid the accident.”

The AMP says that its investigators await the result of an interview with the captain and the first officer, and has requested access to the VDR (trip data recorder) and other essential ship navigation documents, which are in the custody of the Republic of Mauritius police.

Panama’s preliminary results of its investigation were released as the captain of the Wakashio was scheduled to make his next appearance in court. According to local media reports the appearance was brief and included a surprise announcement that the captain was dismissing his lawyers from Mauritius. No reasons were reported and it is unclear what will happen next in the legal case.

The Japanese media is also reporting that a telephone conversation took place between Japan’s foreign minister and the prime minister of Mauritius. Japan's minister told the media that Mauritius expressed its thanks and appreciation and did not blame Japan for the accident. In turn, Japan while not saying a specific amount is promising significant support to Mauritius both in the cleanup efforts and to assist in developing systems to prevent future accidents.