The mayor of Tauranga says the owner of the Rena got off lightly after a judge ordered it to pay half the maximum fine over the ship's grounding.
The Greece-based Daina Shipping Company was yesterday sentenced at the Tauranga District Court to pay $300,000 for discharging harmful substances into the sea after the ship's grounding on Astrolabe Reef on October 5 last year.
The charge carried a maximum fine of $600,000 but Judge Robert Wolff said while the spill had been disastrous for wildlife, the coastline and local communities, the company had not deliberately caused it.
Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said the fine was minuscule and the company could thank salvors who moved hundreds of tonnes of fuel off the ship before an even worse environmental catastrophe struck.
Asked if he thought the company had got off lightly, Mr Crosby said: "Yes, I think it did."
"In terms of the quantum it doesn't make a lot of difference for a multibillion-dollar company, but the judge made his decision based on the information he had and you have to respect that."
Mr Crosby said a consultancy company would engage the local community about the future of the Rena wreckage. The company could apply for resource consent to leave part of the ship on the reef.
"If it's not practical or possible to have it totally removed, the bottom line would be to ensure that it is environmentally and physically safe."
In sentencing the owners Judge Wolff said the fault was not theirs but "the result of poor navigational skills by the captain and the first mate".
"At no point during the course of that hearing or this has there been any suggestion that the present defendant put any pressure of time or of operational requirements on those persons responsible for the ship running aground and that needs to be borne in mind," he said.
Crown prosecutor Rob Ronayne said the company had not directly caused the grounding and sought a $450,000 fine.
The total cost to the Crown amounted to about $47 million but as a result of "extended and co-operative negotiations" the defendant and its insurers had agreed to compensate the Crown $27.6 million - leaving a shortfall of about $20 million.
Defence lawyer Paul Mabey, QC, said "independent of any compensation" the company had already paid $235 million and faced ongoing costs with salvors.
But the owners had taken a responsible and co-operative attitude.
"There's nothing more the owners and their insurers could have done to address the consequences of this disaster," he said
Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch welcomed the sentencing, but said a lot of work remained to be done.
The co-director of North South Environmental Law, Robert Makgill, who is representing at least 100 businesses and the Ngati Awa and Ngai Te Rangi iwi, said claims from more businesses affected by the spill were being assessed.By James Ihaka Email James