Birthday Party & Quest for WiFi led to the Wakashio grounding off of Mauritius

“The 58-year-old captain of the ill-fated Newcastlemax-type bulk carrier WAKASHIO could face negligence charges” after it was discovered the crew was celebrating a crewmember’s birthday  as the ship edged closer to the Mauritius coastline seeking wifi signals just prior to the bulk carrier’s grounding on a reef off the island’s south coast. It appears seeking close proximity to the populated shore is a common practice for ships out to sea weeks at a time. It is done so crews can pick up TV signals, internet, and cell phone access. Crews can call home or catch up on the news.

First reported by local newspaper “L’Express,” these bombshell revelations come from investigators interviewing the crew of the Japanese-owned WAKASHIO a Panamanian-flagged ship.

The WAKASHIO grounded on a reef near UNESCO protected sites on the evening of July 25. Before the catastrophe, local authorities noticed the close proximity of the WAKASHIO to the Mauritius coastline and had been trying to contact the ship before the accident to warn it off from its flawed course. A later story after talking to the crew revealed the crew was celebrating a birthday and had missed the initial and urgent calls. The wrecked ship is now on the verge of breaking up (and has done so), has spilled around 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel into the pristine Mauritian waters, and has created the republic’s greatest ecological disaster.

The “Newcastlemax” designation refers to ship size; Maximum beam 50 meters with a maximum overall length of 300 meter. It is the largest vessel to be able to enter the port of Newcastle, Australia at about 185,000 DWT.

Some of the comments (unnamed) are interesting and speak of the issues with the manning of the huge cargo ships over long periods of time at sea.

– “people on board who can’t control themselves, and don’t have a strong safety culture, you end up like the Maersk fleet, where alcohol is banned on board. Relaxing with a quiet beer in the smoke room after your watch with your colleague from the other department was a pleasant way of rounding out your day. A seafarers life is fast approaching that prevailing in a monastery. Shore leave is almost non-existent. Ships load at remote terminals on the edge of a desert. Watches are never broken in port. Sounds depressing too.”

– “Parties are happening since decades and no accidents so far. Just for some one’s mistake we can not stop entire shipping industry to ban parties on board. See it’s a stress full life on board and nowadays shore leaves are restricted in many ports, alcohol is banned in many companies. The only way to motivate the crew from stressful monotonous work is the party and socializing on board. It’s better if multi national crews are engaged.”

– “nobody heard the coast radio stations‘ repeated radio calls(l assume on ch 16 vhf), obviously nobody was keeping a lookout by ear. Since nobody saw the reef in front of the ship, l can safely assume nobody was keeping a lookout by eye. Let’s see! How many senses are there left. Smell? Nah! Touch? Nah! I’d say the bridge was effectively unmanned. A proper lookout was not being kept by all means, as required by the Rules. In any case, since the ship was making a landfall, the Master should have been on the bridge, not partying below.”

– “Stop this nonsense, the .ain problem are low salaries, that drives to low quality and ineficient crews.
Besides, the crew that spends their tour of duty of 6 and more months without shore leaves, and a proper system of communications with their families, deserves some investment from the Company to have at least a proper satcom internet.

V/l accommodations are smaller and smaller,a living conditions sometimes awful.”

– “Ships do close coasts to get within cellphone range, these days, just as, thirty-odd years ago, when Mr Berlusconi’s television stations were starting to show raunchy programming, ships passing through the Mediterranean liked to get within range of Italian television, and the popularity of the radio officer improved if he were able to get and record some. And on the northern shore of the Malaysian Island known as Pulau Aur you may still find the remains of a Dutch offshore supply vessel which grounded during a New Year’s Eve Party in the early 80s, with just an AB on the bridge.”

If you click on Sam Chambers article and read it, make sure you go to the comments and read them as it is very revealing as to the issues of being on board for days at a time.

As Reported by Splash “Birthday Party, Quest for WiFi led to Wakashio grounding off Mauritius,” Splash, Sam Chambers reporting, August 17, 2020