Pathetic fine for Rena disaster | The Jackal

27 Oct 2012

Pathetic fine for Rena disaster

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

The Greece-based Daina Shipping Company was yesterday sentenced at the Tauranga District Court to pay $300,000 for discharging harmful substances into the sea after the ship's grounding on Astrolabe Reef on October 5 last year.

The charge carried a maximum fine of $600,000 but Judge Robert Wolff said while the spill had been disastrous for wildlife, the coastline and local communities, the company had not deliberately caused it.


In sentencing the owners Judge Wolff said the fault was not theirs but "the result of poor navigational skills by the captain and the first mate".

WTF! A privately owned company is not liable for the equipment it owns? This seems entirely contradictory to the current law and sets in my opinion an unacceptable precedent. What on earth was Judge Robert Wolff thinking?

The company that chartered the Rena, Mediterranean Shipping Company, is not the only company responsible for the accident through the poor navigational skills of its employees. Daina Shipping Company is also responsible because the Rena had failed numerous safety inspections and was faulty.

In other words the MV Rena was an accident waiting to happen and it's likely faulty equipment contributed to the accident occurring. The captain and his first mate were essentially fall guys.

"At no point during the course of that hearing or this has there been any suggestion that the present defendant put any pressure of time or of operational requirements on those persons responsible for the ship running aground and that needs to be borne in mind," he said.

That's like saying a person who let's somebody drive their defective car is not at fault when the person they lent it to has an accident.

In shipping, there's always a deadline, and a combination of poor navigational practice and badly maintained equipment has resulted in New Zealands worst ever environmental disaster to date. Clearly the owner and the operator are both responsible and therefor liable.

Crown prosecutor Rob Ronayne said the company had not directly caused the grounding and sought a $450,000 fine.

Now hang on just a second... Section 338(1B) of the Resource Management Act (PDF) states:

Where any harmful substance or contaminant or water is discharged in the coastal marine area in breach of section 15B, the following persons each commit an offence:
(a) if the discharge is from a ship, the master and the owner of the ship.

It doesn't matter that Daina Shipping hadn't directly caused the accident by steering the Rena into Astrolabe reef... Under the law, the owners of the MV Rena are liable. Clearly the size of the disaster should result in the full extent of the law being applied. Judge Wolf appears to have ignored what the actual law states in making his lenient and entirely unacceptable decision. Perhaps he's waiting for New Zealand to have its own Deepwater Horizon before he properly exercises his powers.

As well as the $600,000 fine that should have been fully imposed, the Act also stipulates that there's an additional fine of $10,000 per day for every day the offence continues. The Rena is still polluting the Eastern Bay of Plenty, and has done so for the last 388 days. Not including the $600 K fine, that's around $4 million dollars the taxpayer wouldn't have to pay if the responsible party was punished accordingly.

It seems totally remiss that the judge hasn't imposed the full penalties available under the law, considering the actual cost of the disaster to the taxpayer and the environment. This lack of proper punishment will send the wrong message to shipping companies... They will simply continue to use unsafe equipment and cut corners in order to maximize profits. A $300 K fine is chump-change to them.

The total cost to the Crown amounted to about $47 million but as a result of "extended and co-operative negotiations" the defendant and its insurers had agreed to compensate the Crown $27.6 million - leaving a shortfall of about $20 million.

Defence lawyer Paul Mabey, QC, said "independent of any compensation" the company had already paid $235 million and faced ongoing costs with salvors.

It's questionable whether that's a correct figure Daina Shipping Company has provided. But I guess that's the price you pay for having an unsafe vessel that cuts corners. It still pisses me off that the taxpayer will foot the bill for any of the cleanup costs. In my opinion, the general public shouldn't be liable for any of the costs associated with the Rena disaster... A disaster that's clearly the fault of privately owned businesses and the people they choose to employ.

Now there's talk of just leaving what's left of the poisonous Rena wreck in the water because of the mounting costs involved in removing it. Presumably the salvors are going to leave the shipping containers that contain highly toxic chemicals in the ocean as well. That means the pollution will continue indefinitely and the people who used to gather kaimoana from the ocean in the area will be adversely impacted for the foreseeable future. It's unlikely that these people will see any compensation for their loss.

Meanwhile the Eastern Bay of Plenty has over the last year had more Whale stranding than ever before. Like the most recent mass stranding, these events have generally gone unreported by the MSM. You've got to wonder if there's a link between the increased amount of Whale stranding and the pollution caused by the Rena? But like so much about this environmental disaster, I guess we'll never know.

50 pilot whales stranded on Whangaparaoa Beach - 16 Oct 2012