Rena Captain And Officer Sent To Jail

Rena's captain and navigation officer have been jailed for seven months for allowing their ship to run aground on the Astrolabe reef last year.

Suppression was lifted on the identities of the cargo vessel's captain Mauro Balomaga and navigator Leonil Relon in today's sentencing at Tauranga District Court.

In late February the captain pleaded guilty to all charges against him, while the second officer admitted all charges, except a Resource Management Act charge on which he entered no plea.

Both men faced the same charges under the Maritime Transport Act for operating a vessel in a manner likely to cause danger, under the Resource Management Act (RMA) for discharging a contaminant and three charges under the Crimes Act for altering ship documents.

The captain also faced an additional charge of altering ship documents.


The crew of the Rena failed to comply with "basic navigation practices" before the ship ran aground on the Astrolabe reef last year, a court has heard.

Paul Maybey QC had argued for home detention for the captain.

"Undoubtedly the motivation of [the captain] was to divert any enquirer from what actually happened. The circumstances of what occurred are important.

The decision was discussed. Premeditation and changes were made to make any enquirer think this boat was on a safe course.

Maybe said his client must have been thinking: "We've hit a reef, I now know why, it looks really bad. We've got make it look like it was a cause other than our own negligence."

He said the decision would have been made by two men "in a bad state of affairs".

"They knew it was being recorded [on the black box]. Discussions were made on the bridge. That gives an idea of their state of mind.

"It was hopeless case of a cover up. It was never going to work."

Mabey said the discussions were recorded and subject to outside evidence.

While Crown solicitor Rob Ronayne said the cover up was admitted after forensic examination of log entry, Maybe contended the information was volunteered. "Because in the light of day and calm reflection that my client realised what he had done was utterly stupid. Within the sentencing function, you can't rule out home detention as non starter."

Maybe said the captain is remorseful.

He also said the captain and engineers had a plan to contain the leak and were taking steps to deal with it when control of the ship was taken out of his hands.

This morning, the court, packed with media, heard from a 40-page summary of facts.

It said the crew had not complied with "basic navigation practices" before the ship ran aground.

The ship had altered course during the day leading up to the grounding and attempts had been made to cover it up.

Colin Reeder, chairman of the Te Moana a toi iwi leaders forum, read out a victim impact statement.

He said tangata whenua had forgiven the captain and first officer.

"The sentencing of the captain and mate, whom have taken responsibility for the disaster, would seem to be a way of mitigating our anger and rage by directing it at them.

''However, as tangata whenua realise that they were only a cog in the machine that caused this disaster, we would rather direct our anger and rage at the system that allowed this to happen.

''The two men made a mistake that was generated by a need to save time. The root cause must be fixed as the potential will still be there after these two are sentenced. We won't be satisfied until this is remedied.

"Through restorative justice, Tangata whenua have forgiven the defendants, who were able to apologise to the community. That apology has been accepted. We do not however forgive the system that may allow this to happen.''

The Rena's owner, Greece-based Costamare, acknowledge the sentences imposed on the captain and navigation officer.

"We will continue to meet our responsibilities, as their employer, to ensure their welfare and that of their families, as they complete their sentences," it said.

"The Rena owners and our insurers continue to be closely involved in managing the response to the grounding, especially through the activities of our salvage and recovery teams -Svitzer & Smit and Braemar Howells.

"There are many complex legal, environmental and community issues still to be resolved from the grounding and we are committed to working with all affected parties to achieve a satisfactory conclusion."


The Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga last October causing an environmental disaster.

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission interim report suggested the Rena took several shortcuts in the hours before it hit the reef. There were discrepancies in the captain and second officer's statements.

The Crimes Act charges each carry a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

The RMA charge has a maximum penalty of a fine of $300,000, or two years imprisonment and $10,000 for every day the offending continues.

The Maritime Transport Act offence carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 or a maximum term of imprisonment of 12 months.

MNZ has also charged the owner of the Rena, Greece-based Daina Shipping Co, under sections of the RMA which relate to the discharge of harmful substances from ships in the coastal marine area.

That charge carries a maximum fine of $600,000 and $10,000 for every day the offending continues. The first call on that matter is expected tomorrow.