Businesses launch Rena legal claim

By Kiri Gillespie

A Mount Maunganui businessman tired of waiting for Rena compensation has brought together local businesses to form a class action against the shipping company responsible.

Nevan Lancaster, who runs a kayak business at Pilot Bay, is spearheading the Rena Business Compensation Group.

Mr Lancaster met with about 30 other people adversely affected by Rena at Papamoa last night to discuss the losses for businesses and groups.

About 120 businesses sought help from the Government when Costamare cargo ship Rena grounded at Astrolabe Reef on October 5, 2011.

"This is not an Erin Brockovich thing but what I would like to see is the companies affected to be in the same position they would have been if Rena had not hit the rocks."

Mr Lancaster said he wanted the same thing for iwi and environment groups who put their own resources into the clean-up.

"We lost 3000 sea birds, maybe more, we have lost a lot," Mr Lancaster said.

There were already 30 - 40 businesses interested in forming the class action before last night's meeting.

"We won't necessarily be millionaires but we will get something."

Mr Lancaster travelled to Auckland and acquired a compensation document detailing the shipping company's insurance position when it came to oil spills.

He said under New Zealand law, Costamare's liability is limited to $12 million but interest from off-shore lawyers indicated the matter could be taken out of New Zealand jurisdiction, where the liability cap would no longer apply.

The estimated cost of Rena's clean-up operation was already $130 million.

Mr Lancaster said he was reluctant to initiate the action as New Zealand was not of the culture of bringing in the lawyers.

"I don't want to change that culture but the fact is we have been ignored for the last four months," Mr Lancaster said.

Mark Tucker from Orca Wild Adventures planned to attend last night's meeting after losing clientele from Rena's grounding.

"We just haven't had the same number of customers really," he said.

"The actual water has been fine. There has been little oil in the water for us but it's just people's perceptions. When they come to swim in the water or to do the dolphin experience, I think a lot of people wanted to go to Kaikoura or Bay of Islands instead," Mr Tucker said.

Environmental lawyer Robert Makgill, who is assisting the group, said the action would be beneficial for small businesses unable to afford legal help on their own.

"If you have 100 litigants who have lost $30,000 to $50,000, that's a feasible action. "

Mr Makgill said local lawyers had also worked to help the group.

While the first course of action would be in New Zealand, the group was waiting on advice from a European litigation firm about the prospects of taking this overseas, Mr Makgill said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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