Rena's Chief Officers Sentenced to 7-Month Terms

The cleanup of the wrecked cargo vessel continues, seven months after it ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of New Zealand and the two officers tried to cover up by altering the ship's documents.

The master of the cargo ship Rena, Mauro Balomaga, and the ship's second officer (navigation), Leonil Relon, were sentenced May 25 to seven months' imprisonment each for dangerously operating the vessel when it ran aground last October on Astrolabe Reef off the New Zealand coast. The ship was stranded there and subsequently broke apart; salvors continue to remove containers and ruined goods from the part of the ship still above the water, and they are using remote-controlled submersibles to search for containers that sank.

Balomaga and Relon pleaded guilty to several charges.

Balomaga:

  • 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 "willfully attempted to pervert the course of justice" by altering ship's documents subsequent to the grounding

Relon:

  • 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 "willfully attempted to pervert the course of justice" by altering ship's documents subsequent to the grounding

Maritime New Zealand's director, Keith Manch, said the two senior officers violated basic principles of safe navigation. Balomaga gave approval for Relon to deviate from a prepared passage plan to make good time, and the alterations were not adequately recorded, nor was an amended plan developed, according to MNZ's investigation.In addition, reefs and other dangers to navigation and safe passing distances weren't identified.

"The final alteration to the course of the ship, around 1:35 a.m., put Rena directly on target to hit the Astrolabe Reef. No further steps were taken to project Rena's position forward along the new course, or estimate where the alteration would take the ship," MNZ reports. "About 10 minutes before the grounding, the Astrolabe Reef appeared as an echo on Rena's radar. At this stage, there was sufficient time to make an effective alteration of course and avoid the reef. [Balomaga] saw the echo and assumed it was a small vessel -– however, after looking for the vessel and not finding it, he dismissed it as a false echo."

The ship ran aground at 2:14 a.m. Manch said during the course of the investigation, both officers admitted making alterations afterward to the ship's GPS log, its passage plan, and its computer to mislead investigating authorities.

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