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Ship's officers plead guilty over New Zealand's Rena disaster

Rena’s collision with a reef off the New Zealand coast led to a serious environmental disaster in the form of a major oil spill.

October 2011: People on Mount Maunganui beach study one of the containers washed up from the Rena.
October 2011: People on Mount Maunganui beach study one of the containers washed up from the Rena.
Image: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko/PA Images

THE CAPTAIN and second officer of a Liberian-flagged cargo ship that struck a reef off the coast of New Zealand in October and sparked the country’s worst maritime disaster have pleaded guilty to operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of NZ$10,000 or up to 12 months in prison, according to Maritime New Zealand.

The two men pleaded guilty to ten of the 11 charges brought against them by New Zealand prosecutors; they entered no plea on a charge relating to the discharge of harmful substances brought under the state’s Resource Management Act.

The men will not be named until they are sentenced on 25 May.

The Rena collided with Astrolabe Reef on 5 October, resulting in a major oil spill that killed around 20,000 seabirds. Bad weather compounded the problem as crews were unable to work quickly to remove fuel before the damaged ship broke apart.

The incident was being described as the state’s worst maritime environment disaster even before the rear section of the ship broke away. The ship finally broke apart last month, releasing further debris and cargo containers into the sea.

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By Christmas, 341 of the 880 containers on board the Rena had been removed and clean-up operations continue.

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