Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena lawsuit 'do-or-die' for affected Bay businesses

File photo / Graeme Brown
File photo / Graeme Brown

Out-of-pocket Bay of Plenty businesses are eyeing a class action against the owners of the Rena - a move one tourism operator has described as do-or-die for many.

A joint lawsuit against Costamare Shipping was the likely option for around 20 businesses, groups and individuals directly affected in the aftermath of the container ship's grounding on the Astrolabe Reef last year, Rena Business Compensation Group spokesman Nevan Lancaster said yesterday.

The group had given Costamare and its insurer, The Swedish Club, time to put a compensation package forward but no offers had been received, Mr Lancaster said.

A meeting between affected businesses in Papamoa would likely be the first step in what could become a long-running legal stoush, he said.

"We will, over the next month, be putting some numbers on the table - we do have a couple of ground figures but nothing I want to quote at the moment."

Mr Lancaster, whose Mt Maunganui kayak and catamaran hire business was shut for six weeks over the disaster, told the Herald lawyers had advised him an action could be brought against the company under a number of international jurisdictions.

"We are talking about a Greek company with a Liberian-registered ship with an insurance company in Sweden, and we will choose whichever [jurisdiction] best suits our cause.

Guilty pleas to a raft of charges by the Rena's captain and second officer this week would have little bearing on the lawsuit, he said.

"Ideally, the class action would be by businesses, ratepayers and property owners, iwi groups and environmental groups - we would all combine together and work as one."

Alternatively, The Swedish Club had outlined a process where companies could lodge individual claims, which would be considered, he said.

Those affected were feeling "sore" and "neglected" over the situation, he said.

Stuart Arnold said his Dolphin Seafaris operation was barely surviving after summer earnings had fallen 50 per cent on last year.

In the weeks after the October grounding, booking numbers dropped from 100 each week to just three over a month.

"We are going to be tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket, basically," he said. " If something isn't forthcoming, some operators won't even last the rest of the season."

A Crown legal team was separately considering a prosecution against Costamare which, under the Resource Management Act, could be fined $600,000 along with $10,000 for each day the offending continued.

The ship's charterers, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, are still receiving claims from cargo owners. Assessors have been able to write off some recovered cargo.

CLASS ACTION
* Some Bay of Plenty businesses are considering a class action against the owners of the Rena.
* A joint lawsuit is an option for about 20 businesses, groups and individuals who have been directly affected by the container ship's grounding.
* The group has given Costamare and its insurer time to put a compensation package together.
* A Crown legal team is separately considering a prosecution case against Costamare.
* Under the Resource Management Act, the charterers could be fined $600,000 and $10,000 for each day the offending continued.

- NZ Herald

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