Mauritius oil spill: MV Wakashio ship captain sentenced

 Mauritius oil spill: MV Wakashio ship captain sentenced

The captain and first officer of a ship that ran aground on a coral reef in Mauritius have each been sentenced to 20 months in prison.

About 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil from the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio leaked into the ocean in July 2020, causing Mauritius’ worst ecological disaster.

The magistrate said she hoped that the sentence would “serve as a lesson” for the men, and other potential offenders.

Both had pleaded guilty to endangering safe navigation.

The captain, Indian national Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, admitted to drinking moderately during a birthday party on board, before the MV Wakashio ran aground on 25 July 2020.

He apologised to Mauritians for the damage caused.

The first officer, Sri Lankan national Hitihanillage Subhoda Janendra Tilakaratna, appealed to the court for leniency and said he had not been able to see his family since his arrest.

In her ruling, magistrate Ida Dookhy-Rambarun said the sentences were “fully warranted”, despite the guilty pleas, and the “clean record and personal circumstances”.

The two men have been in custody for nearly 16 months and this will go towards their sentence.

Mr Nandeshwar’s lawyer said prison authorities had the power to give the inmates a “discretionary remission” and his client was “eager to see his family again”.

A prison source confirmed the captain was likely to be released on Tuesday, and the first officer on 15 January.

Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and is popular with tourists.

The ship ran aground at Pointe d’Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands.

No scientific study on the impact of the spill has been released, but environmentalist agree that it was the worst oil spill off Mauritius’ coast.

Thousands of volunteers spent days scooping up the oil, and trying to contain its spread.

It damaged about 300m (1,000ft) of coral reef and killed many fish.

Fishermen say their livelihoods have been affected, and they no longer catch as many fish as they used to.

On Sunday, Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo said that the ship’s insurers had agreed to compensate about 1,000 fishermen who would each receive about 112,000 Mauritian rupees ($2,580; £1,920).

No-one else has been charged in connection with the disaster.

The investigation into the shipwreck found that the lookout officer had been allowed to stay at the birthday party, which meant that he could not ensure the safe navigation of the vessel.