Police on Mauritius have arrested the captain of the Japanese carrier that ran aground off the coast last month, spilling 1,000 metric tonnes of oil and causing possible irreparable damage to coral reefs.
Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, the Indian captain of the MV Wakashio, was charged Tuesday with “endangering safe navigation.” He faces a bail hearing next week.
The ship’s first officer was also arrested, and investigators say they are interviewing all crew members.
The investigation will center on why the Wakashio went off course. It was supposed to stay at least 16 kilometers from the shore but was about two kilometers away when it ran aground on a coral reef.
“The route set five days before the crash was wrong and the boat navigation system should have signaled that to the crew, and it seems the crew ignored it. The boat did also fail to send out an SOS (when it ran aground) and did not respond to attempts by the coast guard to get in touch,” a maritime official told Reuters.
The Wakashio became disabled July 25 and started leaking oil almost two weeks later. Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth says bad weather is the reason crews didn’t start pumping oil from the ship almost immediately.
About 1,000 metric tonnes leaked into the Indian Ocean surrounding Mauritius and another 3,000 was pumped out before the ship broke in two.
The oil spilled into the precious waters of the Mahebourg Lagoon, and environmentalists fear the endangered reefs along the coast may be damaged forever.
Half of the ship will be towed out to sea and allowed to sink while the other half will be towed away for scrap - a process officials say is likely to take months.
Mauritius has declared an environmental emergency. Experts from Japan, the United Nations and France are working to clean up the oil. Mauritius is a former French colony.
The spill is also likely to damage the island’s tourism industry, which is already under strain because of the coronavirus pandemic.