A maritime law expert says New Zealand will be lucky to get any more than $12 million off the owners of the stricken Rena.
The 47,000-tonne container ship hit the Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga on 5 October last year, spilling containers and huge amounts of oil.
An estimated $28 million has been spent on the clean-up so far after waterways and beaches in the region were polluted.
According to maritime law, the ship's Greek owners Costamare are protected from paying more than $12 million due to a liability cap.
Prime Minister John Key said last week he thought he might be able to negotiate a higher compensation payment.
But maritime law expert Paul Myburgh from Auckland University told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report that may be wishful thinking.
"Reputation is an important aspect, but I would've thought that the bottom line is dollars and cents when it comes to the insurers or the lawyers.
"I've yet to find a shipowner or an insurer that's willing to pay more than they are legally liable for."
An interim report issued last week by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission shows the ship took a number of short cuts the evening it hit the reef.