The captain and navigation officer of the grounded Costamare boxship Rena have been jailed for seven months in New Zealand.
Master Mauro Balomaga and colleague Leonil Relon lost their court-imposed anonymity as the verdicts were handed down in Tauranga District Court on Friday.
In late February, Balomaga pleaded guilty to all charges against him, while Relon admitted all charges, except a Resource Management Act (RMA) charge on which he entered no plea.
Both men were accused of operating a vessel in a manner likely to cause danger, discharging a contaminant and three instances of altering ship documents.
The captain also faced an additional charge of altering ship documents.
The judge said: “This was an event unlike this country has ever seen.”
In sentencing the judge took into account that the men are foreign nationals, that they have been away from their families for a long time and that they have been on remand for months.
The Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga last October, causing what is viewed in New Zealand as an environmental disaster.
The two Filipinos were supported by 15 people in court and many could be seen crying following the sentencing, TV reports said.
Greek manager Costamare said it would continue to meet “its responsibilities, as their employer, to ensure their welfare and that of their families, as they complete their sentences.
“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.
“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 court was told that the men crew had not complied with “basic navigation practices” before the ship ran aground and that the ship had altered course during the day leading up to the grounding, with attempts made to cover it up.
The prosecution said Rena’s navigation officer cut every possible corner and never plotted the vessel’s actual location.
And when Astrolabe Reef did show up on the Rena’s radar the captain’s only response was to order a quick lookout, then assuming it was a false reading, he asked for more speed.
“The actions, or lack of actions, reveal a theme of fundamental incompetence,” prosecutor Rob Ronayne said.
After the grounding the crown said the pair changed navigation charts and lied to investigators for more than a month until a forensic examination of the Rena’s GPS showed it had been tampered with.
“The creation of the falsehoods was deliberate and must have been planned,” Ronayne said.
Maritime New Zealand has also charged the owner, Greece’s Daina Shipping Co, over the discharge of harmful substances.
Source: InterManager, May 25, 2012; Image: Maritime NZ