13 Oct 2011

Two Rena crew charged over grounding

1:15 pm on 13 October 2011

Two crew of a container ship grounded off the coast of Tauranga have been formally charged under the Maritime Transport Act.

The Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef on 5 October and up to 350 tonnes of its fuel oil have leaked. Dozens of containers it was carrying have washed overboard.

The captain, a 44-year-old Filipino man, appeared in Tauranga District Court on Wednesday morning and was charged under section 65 of the act with operating a vessel causing unnecessary danger or risk to a person or property.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 or 12 months in jail.

The defendant's lawyer Paul Mabey, QC, successfully sought name suppression on the grounds that the captain would be at some risk if identified. Mr Mabey told the court there was real potential that some people might want to take matters into their own hands.

Judge Robert Wolff agreed and suppressed the captain's name and any photos being published. He granted the man bail, ordering him to report daily to police unless he is out on the ship assisting the salvage operation.

The captain has surrendered his passport and will reappear in court on 19 October.

Radio New Zealand's reporter at the court says the man was solemn and did not speak. Court papers show the day of the grounding, 5 October, was the captain's birthday.

Meanwhile, an officer in charge of the navigational watch faces one charge of operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk. He will appear in court on Thursday morning.

Environment Minister Nick Smith says that because the incident occurred within New Zealand's 12-mile territorial limit, officials are investigating whether other charges can be laid.