Ship's captain jailed over New Zealand oil spill
The October 2011 oil spill released over 300 tons of fuel that arrived on beaches and coated birds in a thick black sludge.
Fri, May 25, 2012 at 02:50 AM
LEAKY: The Liberian-flagged container ship Rena, stuck on Astrolabe Reef as it is pounded by high seas off the coast of Tauranga. (Photo: AFP)
WELLINGTON — The captain and second officer of a ship that caused New Zealand's biggest sea pollution disaster when it plowed into an offshore reef were both jailed for seven months.
The Filipino officers were in charge of the Liberian-flagged Rena when it hit the reef last year, releasing an oil slick that killed thousands of sea birds and fouled beaches in the North Island's pristine Bay of Plenty.
Captain Mauro Balomaga and navigation officer Leonil Relon had pleaded guilty in February to a range of charges including attempting to pervert the course of justice by altering navigation records after the accident.
They also admitted operating a ship in a dangerous manner and discharging harmful substances from the cargo vessel.
Prosecutors told the Tauranga District Court on May 25 that the pair ignored basic navigational practices when they attempted to take a short cut to reach port in the early hours of October 5 last year.
Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch welcomed the sentences, saying the ship's officers had to be held accountable for their actions.
"This grounding has had significant consequences for the Bay of Plenty community and the country as a whole," he said.
"Today [May 25] marks a milestone in the response, which is still under way."
The Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef 22 kilometers (14 miles) offshore in clear conditions as it steamed at full speed towards Tauranga, New Zealand's largest container port, becoming stuck on the submerged rocks.
More than 300 tons of toxic fuel oil spewed from the vessel, creating an oil slick kilometers long, which washed onto beaches at the popular tourist spot, coating birds in thick black sludge.
Environment Minister Nick Smith described it as New Zealand's worst maritime pollution disaster.
Copyright 2012 AFP Asian Edition