Rena: Pledged $1m still not paid

By John Cousins

A $1 million gift to the people of Tauranga from the charterer of the Rena is on hold until sensitive negotiations are finalised between the Government and the ship's owner, Costamare.

The charterer, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), pledged the $1 million on October 18 last year, barely two weeks after the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef.

MSC, the world's second-largest container line, said at the time the money was a voluntary donation to help the people of Tauranga. The liability for the Rena rested with the ship's owner, which employed its crew.

With the anniversary of the grounding only three weeks away, the Bay of Plenty Times asked the general manager of MSC New Zealand Phil Abraham why it was taking so long for the $1 million donation to be paid.

He declined to explain, saying: "I am not going to be drawn into commenting on that."

Mr Abraham said the donation would be handled by a distribution committee consisting of representatives of MSC and the Western Bay's councils.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said that months had passed since the councils and MSC agreed on the methodology to distribute the money and they were now waiting for MSC to push the button.

A memorandum of understanding on the $1 million's distribution had been developed, based on four categories: business losses with an emphasis on tourism, cleaning up the coastline, wildlife care and assistance for iwi.

Mr Crosby said the timing of the committee's first meeting was related to the Government's negotiations with Costamare. "Once that has been cleared, MSC will be able to initiate the distribution process." Mr Crosby said the lines between MSC's gift and the compensation sought by the Crown needed to be separate and not confused. He said he could understand why the Crown was nervous with the distribution of the $1 million starting before negotiations had been completed with Costamare.

It was about the lines of accountability and responsibility and whether the ship's owner saw the $1 million as a part of that, he said.

"There is a lot of money at stake. I hope it is resolved quickly so the community can get the advantage of the $1 million."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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