Report: Japan Ship Ran Aground, Spilled Oil off Mauritius in Bid to Get Cell Phone Reception

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL) has acknowledged that a cargo ship it chartered ran aground off the island of Mauritius in July because the ship drew near the coast in order to enter an area where mobile phones could be used.

MOL released a report on Friday admitting the cause of the accident, in which more than 1,000 tons of fuel oil were spilled from the large cargo ship Wakashio into the Indian Ocean. A company executive apologized for its lack of safety awareness.

Wakashio is owned by Nagashiki Shipping Co. in Okayama Prefecture and was on its way from China to Brazil, chartered by MOL. According to the report, the ship changed course two days before the accident in order to enter an area with cell phone reception, and approached even closer to the coast on the day it ran aground.

The ship was equipped with electronic nautical charts that acted like a car navigation system. However, the crew could only ascertain their general location, and did not know the specific distance from the coast or the depth of the water.

Even though the ship was in waters 10 meters deep and 0.9 nautical miles (about 1.7 kilometers) from the coast, the crew mistakenly believed that the distance to the coast was about 2 nautical miles (about 3.7 kilometers) and the water more than 200 meters deep, even just before the ship ran aground.

They also neglected to confirm the distance by measuring it via radar or checking visually.

In cases of pollution caused by fuel oil leaks, the legal responsibility lies as a general rule with the shipowner, in this case Nagashiki Shipping. However, MOL has decided to invest ¥500 million to implement measures to prevent a recurrence, considering the fact that half of MOL-operated vessels are chartered.

In addition to safety training for the crew, the company plans to install cameras to allow it to monitor the situation on board from shore. Also, on-board communication systems will be upgraded to enhance communication between ship and shore while at sea.

“We should have done more regarding in-depth crew training and safety management,” said incoming MOL President Takeshi Hashimoto.