NAIROBI, Kenya — The captain and first officer of a ship that hit a coral reef and spilled toxic fuel off the coast of Mauritius last year in the worst environmental disaster in the island nation’s recent history have pleaded guilty to endangering safe navigation.

The spill was an environmental calamity for Mauritius, an Indian Ocean nation off the coast of East Africa that is famous for its stunning beaches and lagoons. It destroyed the livelihoods of fishermen and tourism workers and threatened biodiversity hot spots, including prominent snorkeling and diving areas.

The captain, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, and the first officer, Subodha Tilakaratna, entered their pleas Monday in a hearing at the Intermediate Court in the capital, Port Louis, according to Mr. Tilakaratna’s lawyer. Mr. Nandeshwar had admitted to drinking during a party on the ship, which was carrying 200 tons of diesel and 3,800 tons of fuel oil, when it ran aground in July 2020.

But the charges — for conduct “likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship or to cause interference or annoyance to the other persons on board” — are among the lightest criminal ones under Mauritian law, and the two are likely to be freed soon, the lawyer, Amira Peeroo, said.

following their arrests in August 2020, the two will be deemed to have served their prison terms and freed after sentencing on Dec. 27, Ms. Peeroo said.

“Pleading guilty would allow them to go back to their families and

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