Rena officers could get jobs back

By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times -
Rena officers Leonil Relon, (left) and Mauro Balomaga during an earlier appearance in the Tauranga District Court. Photo / Alan Gibson
Rena officers Leonil Relon, (left) and Mauro Balomaga during an earlier appearance in the Tauranga District Court. Photo / Alan Gibson

The two men responsible for the Rena grounding have walked free from prison and been deported having served just half of their jail sentence, but both men could get their old jobs back.

Mauro Balomaga, captain of the container ship, and navigation officer Leonil Relon served half of their seven-month jail sentence on a range of charges, including perverting the course of justice.

Paul Mabey, QC, who represented both men during the court process following the October 5 grounding, said they were this morning being deported back to their homes in Manila, where both their families were based.

An Immigration New Zealand spokesman confirmed that the men had left New Zealand.

In May, the men plead guilty in Tauranga District Court to charges under the Resource Management Act, including being the master of a ship from which harmful substances or contaminants were discharged into the coastal marine area, wilfully attempting to pervert the course of justice, and altering ship documents.

Their release from Waikeria Prison's minimum security wing comes exactly 11 months after the the Rena struck the Astrolabe Reef.

Mr Mabey said the release was automatic.

"Under the Parole Act, anyone sentenced to a term of imprisonment to two years or less must be released at one half. It's no different for these guys.''

Mr Mabey said he did not know if the men would work on ships again "but the company has kept their jobs open''.

It was not known what the men would choose to do, Mr Mabey said.

"Understandably, they're looking forward to going home to their families.''

Balomaga has five daughters and Relon is understood to have three children.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the men had served their time under the New Zealand justice system. But he would have concerns if the pair were ever put back in charge of a maritime vessel.

"They were found guilty of falsifying documentation and they showed incompetent seamanship. The jail thing is neither here nor there in comparison.''

Mr Crosby said the big problem was the ongoing damage the Rena had done to the environment.

"I was at a meeting on Tuesday with the minister and there was a lot of work to be done still. To me, that's the big issue. I don't think the taxpayers or the ratepayers should be paying for this incident.''

Tauranga MP and former lawyer Simon Bridges said the men's release was disappointing.

Mr Bridges said often the tests behind parole releases came down to whether the prisoner was likely to be a risk to the public and commit the same crime again.

"It's hard to make an argument that they are to going to go out and commit a crime spree,'' Mr Bridges said.

"Having said that, I've got no doubt at all that many and probably the majority of Tauranga people will be very annoyed by what seems like a light and soft parole deal.

"I can understand a lot of disappointment that will be expressed over this and, on a personal level, I think it's disappointing.''

Steve Courtney, who managed 100 volunteer clean-up operations at Papamoa Beach after Rena's oil blanketed the beaches, said he was not surprised.

"I expected it. It's just the way New Zealand's set up. You do the crime, you do half the time. It's pretty pathetic, the way our justice system is. But I suppose the prisons are full and they have bigger and badder people to put in there than those guys.''

No one from Costamare Shipping Company, which owns the Rena, could be contacted for comment last night.

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