Rena captain pleads guilty to all charges

10:18 pm on 29 February 2012

The captain of the cargo ship Rena has pleaded guilty at Tauranga District Court to all charges against him.

The ship ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga on 5 October last year and hundreds of tonnes of oil and containers spilled into the sea polluting beaches.


In court on Wednesday the captain, who has name suppression, pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice, admitting altering the ship's original passage plan, the GPS log book and the ship's documents.

He also pleaded guilty to operating a vessel in a manner which causes unnecessary danger and discharging harmful contaminants into a marine area.

The ship's navigational officer, whose name is also suppressed, did not make a plea on a charge relating to the discharge of harmful contaminants, but did admit to altering the original passage plan and GPS log book.

He also pleaded guilty to operating the ship in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to people or property - a charge under the Maritime Act.

Both men have been bailed and will appear in court again for sentencing in May.

Relief in community

Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby says it is a relief the captain and navigation officer have pleaded guilty to most charges laid against them.

"It's eliminated the requirement for a rather lengthy and possibly drawn-out series of court cases - and I think that's healthy.

"But I guess as a community and myself, personally, I still want to know how it actually happened so we can make sure that the relevant authorities can try and mitigate these issues for the future."

Guy Shuttleworth, from the Hibiscus Surf School on Mt Maunganui's Main Beach, is happy the pair have admitted their guilt and would like to see them jailed.

But Mr Shuttleworth said no matter what the penalty is, there is no way to undo the environmental damage caused by the Rena's grounding.

Salvage teams are continuing their work and the ship remains on Astrolabe Reef.

Guilty pleas could complicate claims

A senior maritime lawyer says guilty pleas could make it harder for companies with cargo on the Rena to get compensation.

Peter Dawson, who heads the New Zealand Maritime Law Association, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday the ship's owners could now be off the hook.

"By the Master and the officer pleading guilty today, they recognise that there was an act or omission on their part.

"What that does is trigger an exception provision - which would mean that any cargo claimant would have a very difficult task in claiming their loss against the ship's owner or the carrier."

Mr Dawson said the rule would apply to cargo holders, not shore businesses that lost money.