14 Oct 2011

Rena owners apologise, but not accepting liability

8:37 am on 14 October 2011

The owners of a container ship wrecked and spilling oil off Tauranga gave an unreserved apology to New Zealand and local residents on Thursday but are refusing to accept any liability yet for the growing environmental disaster.

The Rena has been wedged on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga since 5 October. As much as 350 tonnes of oil has spilled and 88 containers have fallen overboard, affecting shipping lanes.


A major clean-up is underway of Bay of Plenty beaches and the ocean. Some 500 birds have died, while scores of others and seals are being treated.

The managing director of Greek company Costamare Shipping says the 47,000-tonne Rena was in a good condition and the master of the ship has an exemplary record.

Diamantis Manos says they are working closely with Maritime New Zealand and other authorities to explain the ship's systems to aid any salvage attempt and will take part in any investigation.

Mr Manos says Costamare Shipping will also conduct investigations, but feels it would be inappropriate to speculate on what caused the grounding at this stage.

He says one drop of oil in the water is one drop too much, but any liability will have to be decided under international maritime laws.

Belated apology, says minister

Transport Minister Steven Joyce says the apology is belated and Costamare is required to make contributions to the clean-up operation under New Zealand and international law, which is capped at $NZ12.1 million. That is aside from any damages resulting from prosecution or costs of the salvage operation.

Mr Joyce told Checkpoint the New Zealand Government wants the money from Costamare as soon as possible, but the clean-up will not be affected.

The Government is looking at compensating businesses which lose money as a result of the oil spill, he says.

Not our fault, says NZ charter company

The New Zealand general manager of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which chartered the Rena, says his firm does not accept any liability.

Phil Abraham says his company has been working with Costamare for the past 20 years and has never had any problems. At present, it has 18 ships under charter with the Greek owners.

Mr Abraham told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint while his company has been involved in the investigation, the grounding is an incident Costamare needs to address with the authorities.

"We've entered into a charter with Costamare and they are responsible for the crew and the captain.

"In relation to the incident and the vessel hitting the reef, that's a matter for the owner. That's not our responsibility."

Mr Abraham says his company has been fielding calls from worried customers with cargo on the Rena.