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Union demands release of Wakashio crew

International Transport Workers’ Federation union urges release of the crew who were on board the bulker Wakashio that grounded on a coral reef off Mauritius in July last year

The trade union argues that holding the crew, who have not been charged, is unfair and unjust. They have been away from their families for two years

THE International Transport Workers’ Federation is calling for the immediate release and repatriation of the crew who were on board the Japanese bulker Wakashio (IMO: 9337119) when it ran aground in a coral reef off Mauritius a year ago. 

The crew have been held by Mauritian authorities since the incident, which caused widespread environmental damage to the island that relies on tourism and fishing. 

The ITF said it, and affiliated seafarer unions, have “deep concerns” about the treatment of the crew, who have effectively been detained without charge. 

“The ITF supports thorough, independent investigations of the factors relating to any maritime incident, including those that may have affected the grounding of Wakashio,” said ITF seafarers’ section chair David Heindel.

“In this instance, we are concerned about the lack of appropriate legal proceedings taking place. While, in a particular context, criminal charges against seafarers may be justified, it is important that people have access to justice and are treated fairly... We believe the treatment experienced by the crew of Wakashio violates their human rights.”

The Panama-flagged 203,130 dwt vessel deviated from its planned course for wi-fi signal, according to preliminary findings by the flag state. It was also using an incorrect electronic navigation chart. 

The final report is being held up as the Mauritian authorities have not allowed access to the voyage data recorder, nor to official ship documents.

The vessel, owned by Nagashiki Shipping and chartered by Mitsui OSK Lines, ran into the coral reef on July 25 last year. Almost three weeks later it broke in two, spilling 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the pristine waters around the island.

While the forward section was scuttled a month after the incident, the aft was still being dismantled by a Chinese salvage firm.

Following the grounding, captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and chief officer Tilakaratna Subodha were arrested by Mauritian authorities. On August 18, they were charged with endangering safe navigation.

The pair have been detained in prison since their arrest and have been denied bail.

Most of the remainder of the crew have been detained under “house arrest” and kept in a local hotel, on the grounds that they may be required to appear as witnesses in a trial that has yet to commence, the ITF said.

In a letter to Mauritius president Prithvirajsing Roopun, the ITF asked for an “expeditious conclusion” of the saga faced by the crew, some of whom have not seen their families for more than two years, given they had been on board the vessel for 12 months or more, exceeding the Maritime Labour Convention rules.

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