Rena Officers Plead Guilty Over New Zealand Crash and Oil Spill

By MarEx 2012-02-29 10:10:00

The captain and navigating officer of the Rena cargo ship that ran aground last year on a New Zealand reef have plead guilty to a series of charges .

The duo is responsible for the sailing path that led the vessel to run aground on the Astrolabe reef near the Port of Tauranga. Following the crash, an estimated 400 tons of fuel oil spilled from the ship into the pristine waters and killing thousands of seabirds. A TIME report labels this as New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.

In a Tauranga court, both men pleaded guilty to operating a ship in a dangerous manner and obstructing justice by changing the ship’s documents after the crash. That offense alone carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

The captain has pleaded guilty to all six charges filed against him. The navigating officer pleaded guilty to four charges, and did not enter a plea for his fifth charge. The legal hearing is set for May 22, and the sentencing is scheduled for May 25. No direct comments have been made by either party.

Also, TIME reports a December investigation by the AP found that Australian authorities impounded the ship 10 weeks before the crash after finding 17 safety and maintenance violations, but that Liberian maritime authorities intervened, essentially saying the ship was safe to sail and the problems could be fixed later.

The 774-foot Liberia-flagged Rena split in two in January after sinking on the reef for three months. Both halves remain suspended on the reef, with the stern section largely submerged. Salvage crews, who removed more than 1,000 tons of oil from the ship after the crash, are continuing the task of removing shipping containers. The ship is owned by Greek-based Costamare and was chartered by the Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company. New Zealand's government estimated the costs of the cleanup at USD $108 million. Most of the costs have been met by insurers, although taxpayers have also paid for some costs.

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