Japan’s transport safety authority has determined that the cargo ship Wakashio ran aground and spilled oil off the coast of Mauritius in 2020 because it deviated from its planned route to pick up mobile phone signals. The Japan Transport Safety Board also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions may have hindered containment efforts and exacerbated the environmental damage caused by the oil spill. The Wakashio, chartered by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and owned by Nagashiki Shipping Co., leaked around 1,000 tons of fuel oil into the Indian Ocean, endangering the marine ecosystem.
The investigation conducted by the safety board revealed that the crew members had a low level of safety awareness, as the ship had previously approached coastlines to connect to mobile networks. The report stated that the captain ordered the ship to change its route without obtaining marine charts, which would have provided crucial information about the water depth along the coastline. The route was altered just two days before the grounding incident, bringing the ship closer to the coast. On the day of the accident, the ship attempted to reduce the distance even further, ultimately resulting in the grounding.
The captain, who had consumed alcohol prior to the accident, and his first officer were reportedly focused on their smartphones’ signal reception. The salvage operation to remove the wreck of the Wakashio was delayed due to weather conditions and COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Japanese government dispatched disaster relief teams to assist with oil removal and assess the environmental impact of the spill.