DOSSIER

 

The ‘Dark Forces’ Surrounding The Captain’s Lawyers In Mauritius Wakashio Oil Spill Ship Case (II)

The ‘change of heart’ by the captain

Within six days of having one of the most prestigious legal teams having been appointed to the Captain of the Wakashio, Senior Counsel Yousuf Mohamed was asked to suddenly leave the case. 

According to Mr Mohamed, something mysterious occurred in the evening of September 1 or in the morning of September 2 in the police cells of Mauritius where the captain was being held.  

Mr Mohamed said that in a distinguished legal career spanning almost six decades, he has never experienced anything quite like this

 

    

 

Given the circumstances under which he was asked to leave the case, Yousuf Mohamed has described these as ‘dark forces’ that have now surrounded the legal case of the captain of the Wakashio.

According to the interview published in L’Express newspaper on September 12, the Captain is currently being represented by a lawyer from the Wakashio’s insurance company and a lawyer from the vessel owner.

Yousuf Mohamed has given his account to the local media in Mauritius, and confirmed these accounts when contacted by Forbes.  

 


The 12th September L’Express newspaper interview

 

      

     The 12 September Interview in the largest Mauritian newspaper, L'Express, contained explosive ... [+]


According to Mr Mohamed, on August 26, he met with the Captain of the Wakashio at The Police Detention Center in Moka, central Mauritius.  The captain spoke English and as published in the interview in the L’Express newspaper, revealed that Captain Sunil Nandeshwar had already given a statement to the Mauritian police, an Assistant Police Commissioner Budhoo and an Assistant Police Superintendent Kokil of the CCID, the Central Criminal Investigation Department of the Mauritius Police.

When inquiring about the circumstances that led to the grounding of the vessel, the captain revealed that he did not have to stay on the bridge, as he had duty officers that changed shifts every 4 hours.  The captain had put the responsibility of the boat onto the second in command, a certain Tilkartna, according to the detailed interview transcript published in the L’Express newspaper.

Maritime news site, gCaptain describes the Chief Officer as Sri Lankan Tilak Ratna Suboda, who is also facing similar charges as the Captain.

In the interview in L’Express, Mr Mohamed shares the Captain’s account about the various interactions the Captain had with the Mauritian Coastguard through VHF radio, and then the team from SMIT Salvage that took possession of the Wakashio on July 31.

There appears to be four areas where 'dark forces' could potentially be at work.


1. The mysterious phone calls

 

Things became a little odd when after the initial meeting with the Captain on August 26. Mr Mohamed received a surprising phone call, as he revealed in an interview with the largest newspaper in Mauritius, L’Express, published on September 12.

"I received a telephone call from a man saying he was a member of the crew, a certain Mr. Pritam Singh.  He called me to ask if he could tell the police that the captain was drunk.  And I told the captain’s family the same answer I gave to the person who called me: "I cannot tell Mr Pritam to lie about the captain drinking." 

The captain had the right to be drunk since he was on a break, and I explained that to the family."

Mr Mohamed did not think any more about this phone call as he had already made the point that there were two watch duty officers on the bridge, under the supervision of the second in command, and that the captain was on a break.

He was focussed on the next scheduled appearance of Captain Nandeshwar in Court six days later on September 1.


2. Changing lawyers: the odd events between September 1 and 2

 

    

 The day before the court appearance, the entire country of Mauritius was shocked by the overturning of the tugboat, the Sir Gaetan Duval, and the loss of four lives on August 31.  There had been fears of a second oil spill at the time, as this tug boat was towing back an oil barge, the L’Ami Constant.

While the media attention was on the sunk tugboat and the search for the missing tugboat captain, Mr Mohamed received another strange phone call on the very morning of the Captain’s scheduled court appearance on September 1.

This time, it was from the police CCID officer who had taken the captain’s original statement, saying that the Captain no longer wanted Mr Mohamed’s legal representation.  Mr Mohamed found this surprising and was insistent on meeting with his client.  He came to the police cells where Captain Nandeshwar was being held and showed the Captain the WhatsApp exchanges with the Captain’s wife and family, and the captain agreed to have Mr Mohamed represent him in court.  This was all recounted on national TV in Mauritius.

At the Supreme Court of Mauritius on Tuesday September 1, Mr Mohamed and the Captain’s legal team put forth a motion to drop the provisional charges against the captain.  Mr Mohamed explained that the reason the provisional charges should be dropped was because there was no evidence that there had been a breach of the Piracy Act and so the captain should be released on bail. (This was revealed on the same video broadcast on national television in Mauritius at 25 mins).  Mr Mohamed argued that this approach was in the best interests and defense for the captain.

That evening Captain Sunil Nandeshwar was returned to his police cell and Mr Mohamed and the legal team returned home.  They had agreed to meet the following morning between 9.30am and 10am to resume the hearing.

Overnight, Yousuf Mohamed had contacted the sister of the Captain to recount the day’s events. The sister insisted that Mr Mohamed’s team continue to represent the Captain and she called her brother that evening to confirm this, as explained by Mr Mohamed in the interview below (spoken in Mauritian Creole).


2 September 2, 2020


The next day, on September 2, the legal team arrived at the police detention center to continue the inquiry.  Overnight, Mr Mohamed had been exchanging emails with the Captain’s sister and had emails dated that very morning which insisted that Mr Mohamed make the strongest possible representations in the case.

According to the interview with Mr Mohamed broadcast on Top FM in Mauritius, the legal team and the captain met at 10am on Wednesday September 2 at the Mauritian Police barracks, called the Central Criminal Investigation Department (CCID).  Mr Mohamed had a printout of his sister’s email that very morning asking him to continue representing Captain Nandeshwar.

To everyone’s surprise, Captain Nandeshwar turned around and said he did not want the services of Mr Mohamed, one of the best lawyers in Mauritius.   The account of this strange episode was revealed on national TV in Mauritius (and can be seen here in French around the 12th minute). 

Mr Mohamed described this as ‘dark forces’ at work surrounding Captain Nandeshwar to have had such a change of heart overnight.
The legal team immediately contacted the captain’s wife and sister.  They were adamant that they wanted Mr Mohamed to continue.  But as Mr Mohamed explained, the accused was the client, and once he had expressed his wish not to be represented, Mr Mohamed had no choice but to leave the case.
Before leaving the case, Mr Mohamed did say in English to the captain (seen at 13 mins 45 secs in the televised interview), “Your interests are not the same as those of the owner of the ship or those of the insurance company.”

 


 3. Lawyer’s advice to the Captain

 

    

    

 

As the Captain is no longer the client of Mr Mohamed, the police explained that legal privilege was waived and he could reveal other aspects of the case, for example the legal strategy they had planned.

Mr Mohamed mentioned that the captain spoke English, and he was not on Bridge Watch as others were on duty on bridge watch, as per their duty shift arrangement.

Mr Mohamed also urged the captain to say the truth so that he could be seen as a cooperating witness by Mauritius’ Director of Public Prosecutions, rather than as an accused criminal party. (15 min 45 secs)

This would then have fit in well with the legal teams’ views that the provisional charges against the captain should be dropped as there was no breach of the Mauritius Piracy Act and the captain should be released on bail. (25 mins)

Given this legal strategy offered the best protection and defense for his client, Captain Nandeshwar, Mr Mohamed wondered what an alternative legal team could potentially offer that could trump such an approach.


4. Questioning the scope of Wakashio inquiry

 

    

In the televised interview, Mr Mohamed also went further to express his surprise at how the investigation into the Wakashio was being conducted.  
In Mauritius, there are two types of inquiries, a Court of Investigation and a Commission of Inquiry.
- The Court of Investigation normally has a narrower mandate with much weaker powers.
- The Commission of Inquiry has a broader scope, more power to summon all witnesses, and more protection for witnesses who testifyGiven that the events of the Wakashio has caused the worst environmental disaster in Mauritius, national protests of over 100,000, the deaths of over 50 whales and dolphins and the loss of four Mauritius crew in a Wakashio salvage tugboat that overturned, a wide inquiry is needed  to ensure all relevant points are covered.

The Court of Investigation is clearly insufficient.

This sentiment has been echoed by all the leaders of the main opposition parties, as well as former Presidents.  Why would a full Commission of Inquiry not be held?


The increasingly mysterious case of the Wakashio

 

    

 

The events surrounding the Wakashio continue to get more and more mysterious.

At face value, the grounding of the Wakashio appeared to be a large industrial tragedy.  However, as the actions and responses to this incident become more and more bizarre, and take place under extreme secrecy, many are wondering whether there is more than meets the eye to this incident.

Perhaps these actions themselves, more so than the initial oil spill, have now become the most worrisome of all.

 

 

 

 

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