back to article Search for phone signal caused oil spill, say Japanese investigators

Japan’s Transport Safety Board on Thursday judged that a cargo ship that spilled 1,000 tons of fuel oil into a pristine marine environment off the coast of Mauritius in 2020 was travelling off course in search of a cell phone signal. The MV Wakashio was en route from Lianyungang, China to a Brazilian port when, on July 25 2020 …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    Wow

    I've heard of people walking off cliffs while holding up their phone (why do people do that when trying to get a signal, as if an extra two feet of elevation is going to matter?) trying to get a signal, but never heard of someone taking a vehicle along for the ride. Not even a bicycle or a car, let alone a 100,000 ton cargo ship!

    1. xyz Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      Trust me.. A few feet does make a difference. I've got a cubic metre where I can get a signal in 40 acres. (apologies for the archaic measurement). Mind you, ships' captains seem to have form for coast hugging for dubious reason.. Remember that cruise ship off Italy that went crunch and rolled over.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        Re: Wow

        Just after the cruise ship capsized a new line of t-shirts appeared in stores nearby, with "Vade a bordo, cazzo", as I recall

      2. cookieMonster Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Wow

        Which one?? It’s been happening quite a lot over the past couple of years

        1. Jonathan Richards 1

          Re: Wow

          > Which one?

          Costa Concordia, I guess.

          There is a technical report linked from this page [gov.it].

    2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      There's one spot in my house where I have zero signal. If I move the phone one foot, full bars. I have no explanation for it, and there's no reason it should exist, but it does.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Wow

        I have no explanation for it, and there's no reason it should exist, but it does.

        Everything is normal. Don't search further, or the black helicopters will come for you.

        /s

  2. KittenHuffer Silver badge
    Facepalm

    “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

    No thought about the environmental disaster he had caused. Just concern for crashing his career.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

      I don't think that anybody even remotely concerned about an environmental disaster would be piloting a ship full of oil and then get distracted by the need for a phone signal, and then ignore charts to order several days of travel to come closer to coral reefs in order to talk to their girlfriend (or whoever).

      1. Lurko

        Re: “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

        Unless you follow the links and do a bit more reading it isn't apparent from the Reg article that the ship itself broke up, so in addition to the environmental damage there was a multi-million dollar clean up and salvage bill, the loss of three lives during the salvage work, and the hull loss claim itelf.

        In terms of real consequences, as far as I can tell (from respected source Wikipedia) the captain and first officer served about two and half years in clink - and as the captain was 58 his career was all but over anyway. It could also be argued that being held in a cell for a few months isn't too different to normal working conditions for the merchant navy. Adequate punishment? You decide.

        The ship's owners Mitsui OSK are reported to have said at the time that the incident wasn't expected to affect their earnings. So rest assured peeps, no shareholders were harmed, no lessons were learned, and no flags of convenience were impaired.

        1. gandalfcn Silver badge

          Re: “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

          Ever heard of insurance?

        2. gandalfcn Silver badge

          Re: “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

          "It could also be argued that being held in a cell for a few months isn't too different to normal working conditions for the merchant navy. " It could, by an ignoramus.

      2. gandalfcn Silver badge

        Re: “Shit, what I have done in my life? Now, my career is gone!”

        The Master isn't a "pilot' and the ship wasn't full of oil, it is a dry bulk carrier and was in ballast.

  3. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    The "Who, Me" at the start of the article is missing!

  4. SVD_NL Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Uhm, what?

    "The report noted that the captain of the vessel changed the voyage plan for the purpose of coming within range of signal for his smartphone"

    Me: "Wait why don't they have a satellite phone on board? How would they stay in contact with shipping company and such?"

    the fleet had access to free unlimited satellite internet onboard the ship.

    .....

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Uhm, what?

      I'm going to guess that the free unlimited satellite internet blocks certain content (porn and movie piracy probably) and that captain and crew wanted to get their wank on.

      1. Great Bu

        Re: Uhm, what?

        They must have run out of warm liver and toilet roll inner tubes.....

      2. bpfh

        Re: Uhm, what?

        My thoughts exactly!

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Uhm, what?

        "blocks certain content (porn and movie piracy probably)"

        Understandable. The last thing want on the high seas is more piracy!

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    FAIL

    Wow. Just wow.

    You're the captain of a 100,000 ton cargo ship and your only focus is getting a signal for your smartphone. So, without knowing the waters you are in or going to, without the slightest inkling that maybe you should check, you just change course straight into catastrophe.

    At this point, the whisky is an anecdote. It is literally irrelevant. The big issue is changing course without checking anything. That's like driving along a road, closing your eyes and then deciding when to take a left turn. I would have thought that naval school would have taught him the necessity of knowing where you're going when captaining a vessel of any kind, let alone an enormous cargo ship.

    Who decided to give him command and how much experience did he have beforehand ? Was this his first command ? I cannot believe he was a seasoned captain. I would think that cargo companies prefer having their ships commanded by someone with experience, but this dude acted like a frat boy on party night.

    Well, in any case, that'll be his last command. I don't feel sorry for him.

    1. Rattus
      IT Angle

      Who decided to give him command and how much experience did he have beforehand ?

      I believe your questions were answered by the quote "Flag of convenience". This translates as minimal legislation, staff training, minimum wages, because we are using a country that allows us to do so,

      If they were sailing under our own countries flag we would have far too many rules to follow, environmental consideration, staff welfare, minimum responsibilities etc, how can you possibly make a profit when you have to comply with all those rules?

      When you are dealing with the lowest cost operation you can possibly get away with don't expect the most diligent / responsible people

      /Rattus

      1. gandalfcn Silver badge

        Re: Who decided to give him command and how much experience did he have beforehand ?

        "Flag of convenience". Like the UK you mean?

        Some of the most incompetent officers I ever encountered were British on UK flagged vessels.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Who decided to give him command and how much experience did he have beforehand ?

          Yeah, and their modern Major-Generals ... whew!

          "Some unspecified fraction of unspecified N, source unexplained, were below an unspecified metric."

          Compelling argument you have there.

      2. gandalfcn Silver badge

        Re: Who decided to give him command and how much experience did he have beforehand ?

        "This translates as minimal legislation, staff training, minimum wages, because we are using a country that allows us to do so," The Master in question obtained his qualifications under STCW via the Indian system which is just about identical in all respects to the UK's system. Minimum wages? Indian crews are amongst the highest paid.

        "minimal legislation" Liberia, Panama, Bahamas etc; have the same standards, or higher than the UK. Yes, there are some cowboy flags, but they comprise a very small %age.

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Wow. Just wow.

      I cannot believe he was a seasoned captain.

      Possibly another victim of "done it loads of times before and nothing bad happened".

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Wow. Just wow.

        Yep. Most drunk drivers have driven drunk hundreds of times, and complacency rather than the actual drunkenness is what gets them - they don't pay any more attention than they do at other times. It may be that the extra bit of delayed reaction time makes the difference between accident and close call, or their number is just up for an accident and they wouldn't have avoided it sober.

        Same with distracted drivers. The people who get in a crash because they are fiddling with their phone and don't notice someone has slowed/stopped in front of them have probably driven while fiddling with their phone for years without a problem so they assume the cautions/laws against are just nanny state worryings that apply to others but not themselves.

        The longer someone "gets away" with doing something they know or should know they shouldn't be doing without consequences, the more they will believe they are an exception to the rule. I remember back in college a guy I know who raced cars at a local track would give me rides home sometimes from the bar when we'd both been drinking and he said "I'm such a good driver that driving drunk just lowers me to the level of the average driver". Lost track of him after college but I suspect if he kept that up long enough he probably got pulled over eventually and I imagine having your license suspended for drunk driving is not good for being allowed on racetracks!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Wow. Just wow.

          "I imagine having your license suspended for drunk driving is not good for being allowed on racetracks!"

          Depends on whether they ask. I know people who started race driving before being old enough to legally take to the roads and therefore didn't even have a driving licence so it's not a requirement.

  6. Christoph

    Is "Wakashio" by any chance the Japanese for "Troutbridge"?

    1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      ...what is the Japanese for "left hand down a bit"?

    2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      Since You Asked

      One meaning of "wakashio" is "the transitional tide between spring and neap tides." There may be other meanings I'm unaware of.

  7. ITMA Silver badge

    It wasn't my fault!

    I'm waiting for the insurance claim:

    "I was proceeding in an orderly manner when this coral reef jumped out in front of my ship from nowhere".

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: It wasn't my fault!

      "So its really all the fault of global warming, your Honor".

    2. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: It wasn't my fault!

      Marine u/w aren't as dumb as nkn-marine ones.

  8. RichardBarrell
    Trollface

    Understandable on one level - geosynchronous satellite internet is slow as the hills.

    If only they'd had Starlink instead, the dumbass would not have been so tempted to try to get a cellphone signal from shore.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Terrible latency yes, but unless you are trying to play online games it should be perfectly useable.

    2. ITMA Silver badge

      All well and good.

      But it does ignore the prime responsibility of being captain of a sea going vessel:

      STEER THE BLOODY SHIP AND DON'T RUN INTO ANYTHING.

      What was so important on his mobile that it took priority over that?

      It is not too different from this:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-59951710

  9. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Facepalm

    A-bloody-mazing!

    At least the captain of the Titanic had the excuse that icebergs don't show up on maps, and don't stay put, unlike, oh, I don't know, a bleedin' coral reef! Who would expect one of those in the vicinity of an island in the tropics?!

    1. ITMA Silver badge

      Re: A-bloody-mazing!

      And no RADAR or SONAR.

      1. Catkin Silver badge

        Re: A-bloody-mazing!

        A fog horn is a form of SONAR. The problem is that the iceberg heard it and failed to signal back because it wasn't a fogberg. Sadly, the roll out of RADAR killed the marketing opportunities for an ice horn.

  10. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Joke

    The real story

    The captain was playing Pokemon Go, and there was a rare Pokemon right over there ...

  11. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Reminiscent of the yacht which ran aground, terminally, on a well charted reef off South Africa during the 2017 Clipper Round the World Race (aka Death Race 2017, since they killed two paying participants). The navigator hadn't bothered to zoom in to check whether there was anything worth worrying about ahead of them.

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