Mauritius oil spill: Captain of ship arrested, UN agencies to aid in response plans

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

Mauritian authorities have arrested Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, age 58, on Tuesday 18 August. Nandeshwar is the captain of M/V Wakashio, the Japan-registered ship that ran aground off the island’s coast, resulting in the spilling of 1,000 metric tons of oil which caused significant irreversible damage to coral reefs in the region.

Appearing before a court in Port Louis, the Indian national was charged with “endangering safe navigation”. A bail hearing for his case will be held this Tuesday the 25th of August. Alongside Nandeshwar, M/V Wakashio’s first officer has also been arrested, and the remaining crew members are being interviewed by investigators.

The M/V Wakashio was supposed to stay at least 16 kilometers off shore, but it was found navigating some two kilometers away when it ran aground on a coral reef. The vessel became disabled on July 25 and began to leak oil into the waters of the Mahebourg Lagoon in the Indian Ocean almost two weeks later. Investigation into the incident will focus on how the ship went off course.

The Mauritius government stated that it intends to seek compensation from the owner of the ship over the leakage. Environmental experts are looking into the full impact of the spill, which is forecast to damage the country’s tourism-dependent economy for decades to come.

The UN Development Program has allocated $200,000 to assist with ongoing clean-up efforts. Support also comes from the International Maritime Organization, the UN Environment Program and the UN humanitarian office, all of whom have appointed an oil spill expert to aid in the government’s response plans. The UN will also be involved in public health response, community risk assessment, forensic investigation and legal support, and remote mapping of the impact area.

Read about the UN’s assessment of the Mauritius oil spill from the lens of international law here: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1070682#:~:text=Historic%20oil%20spill,known%20for%20its%20spectacular%20beaches.&text=The%20ship%20was%20not%20carrying,of%20lubricant%20oil%20on%20board