More than four months since the major oil spill event on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, many questions still swirl around how the Japanese vessel, the Wakashio ended up grounded on Mauritius’ coral reefs in July.
Now the Japanese shipowner behind the Wakashio, Nagashiki Shipping, is attempting to hide behind a screen of corporate secrecy to not disclose material information to the shipwreck inquiry, following an investigation published in Forbes.
Following two stories on Forbes on November 25 and November 26 that highlighted the nearly 100 safety flaws with the Wakashio, and statements by the CEO of Nagashiki Shipping could not be corroborated with public shipping safety databases that the EU runs, called EQUASIS (Electronic Quality Shipping Information System).
This is despite Mauritius currently being in a state of National Environmental Emergency, and the visit of Japan’s Foreign Minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, who is currently in Mauritius visiting the wreck of Wakashio, the stern of which is still stuck on Mauritius’ coral reefs.
It is precisely the use of offshore ‘Flags of Convenience’ that are causing shipowners to shield their risky fleets in these jurisdictions like Panama behind a complex and secret web of corporate shell companies.
The conduct of the shipowners and operators involved with the Wakashio disaster highlight just why shipping laws that use ‘Flags of Convenience’ need to be reformed, to bring more transparency into the sector.
This is the work that the G20 led on for offshore tax havens over the past decade, but inexplicably did not include global ship registration reform.
Hiding behind claims of ‘Commercial Sensitivity’
At a MOL-Nagashiki Shipping Press Conference on the Wakashio oil spill, hosted at MOL’s Headquarters in Tokyo on August 9, Nagashiki Shipping’s President and CEO Yoshiaki Nagashiki publicly stated that Nagashiki Shipping owns 11 vessels, which he specified as bulk carriers, container ships and tankers.
He was giving a joint press conference along with MOL’s Executive Vice President, Akihiko Ono, and MOL’s Head of Safe Operations Division, Masanori Kato.
However, using the EU’s shipping database, EQUASIS, it is only possible to identify five vessels owned by Nagashiki Shipping (one of which was added on November 1, the Admiral Jimmu).
In response to clarifications about Nagshiki Shipping’s vessel ownership asked by Forbes on November 26, a spokesperson for Nagashiki Shipping responded on December 1, with “As these questions are commercially sensitive and do not directly relate to the incident we are unable to provide the requested information.”
Wakashio had nearly 100 deficiencies
The EU EQUASIS database also identified nearly 100 safety deficiencies with the Wakashio, several were very serious.
An investigation by Forbes have identified systemic risks with the Navigation Systems on almost all the vessels named by Nagashiki Shipping on its website.
However, upon a closer examination, it turned out that these vessels did not appear to be owned by Nagashiki Shipping.
A search through several shipping databases cannot identify the 11 vessels that the CEO of Nagashiki Shipping is referring to. In fact, only six vessels could be identified that are owned by Nagashiki Shipping, with the rest being linked to several of the biggest shipping companies in Japan.
Changes to the records of the Wakashio
It was then noticed that several changes had been made to the public EQUASIS database.
There was also an inexplicable entry that showed the insurance for the Wakashio beginning on August 7, the day after the oil spill began, and 13 days after the vessel had run aground on Mauritius’ coral reefs.
No explanation has been given for these changes.
In response to questions by Forbes whether Nagashiki Shipping issued any instructions to alter any documentation for the Wakashio since its grounding on July 25, a spokesperson for Nagashiki Shipping responded with one word: “No” on November 1.
In response to questions about the inexplicable changes to vessels held by Nagashiki Shipping, including the subsidiary shell company Okiyo Maritime which the Wakashio was being held under, the spokesperson for Nagashiki Shipping responded with, “There has been not been any restructure of our business.”
Mitsui’s relationship with the Wakashio
There are also questions about what MOL knew about the Wakashio. Many of these questions also extend to how the vessel was operated and the risks entailed there.
On, September 14, a spokesperson for MOL said in response to questions from Forbes, “Our relationship with Wakashio had started since her delivery in May, 2007 as Charterer from Nagashiki Shipping’s point of view. We had also sublet the vessel to a different Charterer, which in this contract we would be considered the operator from sublet Charterers point of view.”
Hidden corporate structures used in shipping
At the core of shipping safety is the use of offshore ‘Flags of Convenience.’ 70% of global shipping continues to be registered in six jurisdictions that have increased the risk to ship safety.
The largest ship registry is Panama, which is where the Wakashio was registered.
A spokesperson for MOL clarified the relationship between MOL and Nagashiki Shiping on September 14, with “This charter had already expired, and at the time of the incident as she was on a ballast voyage and had no cargo, the Charter chain was simply MOL as Charterer and Nagashiki Shipping as Owner. If she was laden, we would have been the Operator, Nagashiki shipping would be the Owner, and whom ever that had taken her on a spot voyage would have been the Charterer.”
A campaign for shipping reform
Once more, the actions of Nagashiki Shipping and Mitsui OSK Lines epitomizes why global shipping laws needs to be reformed to have greater transparency and safety.
The Wakashio is an example where a shipping incident has caused a major state of national environmental emergency to be declared, provoked over 100,000 people to march on the streets of Mauritius and triggered protests around the world, prompting a major political crisis, put in danger dozens of the world’s rarest species, and yet a Japanese company finds that it is ‘commercially sensitive’ to disclose.
This is not compatible with statements made by the Government of Japan calling for meeting the 2050 climate targets with trust and transparency.
With Japan’s Foreign Minister Motegi’s visit, the real test will be how much transparency is now revealed about the events that led to the Wakashio’s grounding.