Compensation claims by Bay of Plenty businesses for Rena-related losses will exceed the $11.5 million fund proposed by the ship's owners, a claimants' lawyer says.
The Rena's owners last week announced the establishment of a $27 million compensation fund for people who lost goods when the ship ran aground on Astrolabe Reef last year.
The fund will be established in the UK as cargo on board the Rena was carried under English law and jurisdiction.
Another fund, worth almost $11.5 million, offering compensation to Bay of Plenty people and businesses who suffered losses as a result of the grounding, is expected to be established soon, a spokesman for the owners said.
However, a lawyer representing iwi and businesses affected by the Rena grounding said news that the Rena's insurers had declared a General Limitation Decree in the UK was not a cause for celebration.
Robert Makgill, a director of North South Environmental Law, is preparing a legal claim for local iwi Ngati Awa as well as a class action for more than 100 Bay businesses.
"The Rena's owners have made limitation to sound like compensation. Of course, claimants ring us up confused when they read in the newspaper that compensation is beginning.
"The inference is that this is a positive step forward when in fact it is the beginning of a legal process to seek to cap the compensation claims to around $11.5 million.
"Limitation and compensation are complicated issues, and need to be communicated to the public in an open and clear way."
Rena's insurers had not yet filed a legal notice seeking a limitation of compensation in New Zealand, however, they were signalling in that direction, Mr Makgill said.
The Rena's grounding had caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the Bay of Plenty region in direct and downstream economic loss, he said.
His firm was still working on determining a specific amount of loss, but said it definitely expected losses to be much higher than $11.5 million.
Nevan Lancaster, who organised a group of businesses seeking compensation from Rena's owners Costamare, said he was pleased to hear the company was at least accepting some liability.
Speaking from Hong Kong airport, and on his way back from Greece where he visited Costamare's head offices, Mr Lancaster said the compensation fund "gives us a basis for whatever we go ahead with".
"I'm happy that they're finally getting something on the table, but is it a case of too little too late?"
A year on from the grounding and subsequent oil spills, some affected businesses had already gone bankrupt, he said.
Mr Lancaster was not sure if the fund would be enough to cover all the compensation claims lodged against it.By Joseph Aldridge