The Greece-based owner of the Rena cargo ship has spent $235 million dollars on the clean-up.
It has also been revealed that three weeks ago an oil tanker was warned by the Port of Tauranga that it was on a collision course with the grounded Rena.
The revelations come after Daina Shipping Company was fined $300,000 after pleading guilty to a charge under the Resource Management Act relating to the discharge of harmful substances.
As the registered owner, Daina Shipping Company had overall responsibility for the operation of the Rena.
Crown solicitor Rob Ronayne and Paul Mabey QC suggested to Judge Robert Wolff that a starting point fine of $450,000 was more appropriate than the maximum penalty of $600,000 and $10,000 for every day the offending continued.
Judge Robert Wolff.
Mr Mabey said although there was a loss to the Government, his client had already agreed to a $27.6 million package, which leaves about $20 million to be paid by taxpayers.
Mr Mabey said the owners were within their rights to pay up to New Zealand's liability cap of $11 million but had gone further. "There can be no doubt significant damage has been done to the environment. That's why we are here.
"But it's correct from the outset the owners have had a responsible attitude and paid compensation," Mr Mabey said.
" Judge Wolff said the captain and second officer shouldered the main responsibility for what happened and the shipping company had done all it could to help with the clean-up .
The offence was not deliberate, but a penalty had to be handed down as a deterrent and to show justice had been done, Judge Wolff said.
"This entire coast has been affected, that is inevitable, as have a vast number of individuals, businesses, groups and the like," he said.
"There's remorse [from the company] ."
Judge Wolff said the maximum penalty was reserved for worst-case scenarios .
In court, it was revealed the company has already spent $235 million on ongoing salvage and clean-up but the estimated cost for the Government had reached about $47 million.
Reading from a victim impact statement, Ngaraima Taingahue representing Awanui Black, chairman Tauranga Moana Iwi Leaders' Group, said Rena had left people shocked and saddened.
"Our environment is deeply entrenched in who we are. This is our area. It's not as if we have anywhere else to go."
Iwi members were still on the beaches cleaning up debris .
"We are members of the tangata whenua community ... we have, through our whakapapa, we have an undying and unique relationship with our ... moana [sea]."
Outside court, Mr Mabey said it was a relief to have the matter over with.
"I know the company wanted to move on. The company didn't want this Rena clean-up costs company $235m - plus $300,000 fine
to happen but it happened," he said.
"No one can criticise their efforts.
"There wasn't much more they could have done."
Mr Mabey said Captain John Owens from insurers The Swedish Club would be arriving in Tauranga today to begin a public consultation asking people for their views on how to remove Rena from the reef.
Maritime New Zealand chief executive Keith Manch said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"The guilty plea by the owners has led to this case being resolved in a timely fashion and that is to be welcomed," Mr Manch said.
Speaking from Athens, Konstantinos Zacharatos again apologised on behalf of Daina Shipping Company to the Bay of Plenty community and people of New Zealand. "This occurred as a result of human errors. I apologise for the actions of the crew, the accident and any damage caused.
"This is an accident no one wanted to happen but it did and consequently we take our responsibilities very seriously."
Bevan Marten, lecturer of maritime law at Victoria University, said the prosecution did the best they could under the circumstances.
"Ultimately, New Zealand needs stronger maritime laws giving us full cost recovery following marine pollution events."
Rena Business Compensation Group spokesman Nevan Lancaster said the ship's owners had got off "extremely lightly".
Meanwhile, Martime New Zealand last night confirmed that three weeks the Port of Tauranga had to warn an oil tanker that it was on a collision course with the grounded Rena.
Maritime New Zealand spokesperson Michael Flyger said port's watch commander called the captain of the Ocean Neptune to let him know he was on a similar track as the Rena.
The Ocean Neptune was 41 kilometres away from the Rena when it was advised to change its entrance into the harbour.
The ship immediately changed its course and entered the harbour without further incident.