Wrecked ship's owners plead guilty, fined in New Zealand

WELLINGTON Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:08pm EDT

The bow section of the stricken container ship Rena remains above water about 14 nautical miles (22 km) from Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island in this April 4, 2012 handout picture. REUTERS/Maritime New Zealand/Handout

The bow section of the stricken container ship Rena remains above water about 14 nautical miles (22 km) from Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island in this April 4, 2012 handout picture.

Credit: Reuters/Maritime New Zealand/Handout

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The owners of a ship which smashed into a reef off a popular New Zealand holiday spot, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades, pleaded guilty to causing marine pollution and were fined on Friday.

Daina Shipping, a unit of Greece's Costamare Inc., pleaded guilty to a charge of releasing harmful substances into the sea after its 47,230-ton Liberian-flagged Rena grounded on a reef a year ago.

The company was fined NZ$300,000 ($246,000), half the maximum penalty it could have paid.

"The guilty plea by the owners has led to this case being resolved in a timely fashion and that is to be welcomed," Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch said.

Earlier this month the company agreed to pay NZ$27.6 million ($22.6 million) to the government's costs of cleaning up the pollution and wreckage spread over coastal waters and coastline.

The 236-metre (775-foot) vessel struck a reef about 20 km (12 miles) off Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest export port, in October last year, spewing around 300 tons of toxic fuel oil into the ocean, killing thousands of sea birds and fouling beaches up to 100 km (60 miles) from the reef.

The ship's captain and navigation officer, both Filipino nationals, were jailed in May for seven months for operating the ship in a dangerous manner, releasing toxic substances, and altering the ship's documents.

They had admitted to taking short cuts to ensure the ship did not arrive late at Tauranga.

The ship carried more than 1,300 containers and the cargo included a variety of chemicals, in addition to food, timber, and general cargo.

The ship has broken in half. The rear section has fallen off the reef and salvage operators have been cutting up the bow section, which is still aground.

($1=NZ$1.22)

(Reporting by Gyles Beckford)

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