Rena Officers Jailed

gCaptain
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May 25, 2012

The Master and Second Officer of the stricken M/V Rena that has been stuck on Astrolabe Reef since grounding on October 5 have each been sentenced to seven months imprisonment for their role in the grounding.

The men were sentenced on a total of 11 charges laid out by Maritime New Zealand that included operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, discharging harmful substances from ships, and willfully attempting to alter the course of justice by altering ship’s documents after the grounding.

MNZ laid six charges against the Master, Mauro Balomaga, and five charges against the Second Officer, Leonil Relon, following the grounding. Both men pleaded guilty to all charges against them.

“In this case, the Master and the Second Officer have breached the most basic fundamental principles of safe navigation,” said Keith Manch, Director of MNZ, who welcomed the charges.

An investigation into the grounding found that the Master and Second Officer had deviated from their original passage plan from Napier to Tauranga to save time, but failed to properly assess navigational hazards of the new plan and also not adequately record these changes.

According to the MNZ investigation, the final alteration to the course of the ship occurred around 1.35am and put Rena directly on target to hit the Astrolabe Reef, where it would eventually run aground at 2.14am.

About 10 minutes prior to the grounding, the investigation found, the Astrolabe Reef appeared as blip on Rena’s radar, which would have provided sufficient lead time to change course to avoid the reef had the Master not dismissed it as a small vessel.

“If there is a need to deviate from a prepared passage plan, the alterations must be plotted and the new projected path carefully assessed to ensure all potential navigational hazards are identified,” said Manch.

The Master and Second officer were not only targeted for their actions prior to grounding, but it was their actions afterwards that would also land them in the hot seat.

During the course of the MNZ investigation, Manch added, both officers admitted making alterations after the grounding to the ship’s GPS log, its passage plan and its computer to mislead investigating authorities.

“This offending is also very serious in that it caused genuine confusion for investigators trying to piece together the events that led to the grounding.

“It is vital that when these types of events do take place, we can find out how and why they have happened to help prevent such an event happening again.”

In a separate prosecution, MNZ has also laid a charge under the RMA against the owner of Rena, Daina Shipping Co.

Earlier this week the Rena salvage reached a milestone after surpassing 800 recovered containers from the vessel. The vessel had a total of 1368 containers when it grounded.

Details of the charges against the Master and Second Officer can be found below.

Mauro Balomaga, the ship’s Master:

  • One charge under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) 1994, “for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk”.
  • One charge under section 338 (1B) and (15B) of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) relating to the “discharge of harmful substances from ships or offshore installations”.
  • Four charges under S117(e) & 66 of the Crimes Act, that he “wilfully attempted to pervert the course of justice” by altering ship’s documents subsequent to the grounding.

Leonil Relon, the ship’s Second Officer (Navigation):

  • One charge under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) 1994, “for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk”.
  • One charge under section 338 (1B) and (15B) of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) relating to the “discharge of harmful substances from ships or offshore installations”.
  • Three charges under S117(e) & 66 of the Crimes Act, that he “wilfully attempted to pervert the course of justice” by altering ship’s documents subsequent to the grounding.

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