Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Four more Rena crew allowed to fly home

Four Rena crew members departed New Zealand today leaving the captain and the navigational officer to face court charges. Photo / Supplied
Four Rena crew members departed New Zealand today leaving the captain and the navigational officer to face court charges. Photo / Supplied

Four of the Rena's crew left New Zealand yesterday, leaving only the captain and navigational officer to face court charges relating to the grounding of the stricken container ship.

They join the 19 others who were put on flights out of the country last week amid concerns for their safety.

Philippine minister and consul Giovanni Palec said the four, who had been helping with investigations, were able to leave after it was found that they will not be facing charges.

Tauranga Philippine community leader Daisy de Groot said they were looking forward to returning home.

"I have done whatever little I can, by cooking for them food from home, but it had still been a very tough time for them," Ms de Groot said.

The Rena crisis erupted into outrage yesterday as a 150-strong group marched through the streets of Tauranga to protest against deep-sea oil drilling.

At the centre of the protests were three men who appeared in Tauranga District Court - the captain and navigation officer of the stricken container ship and an Opotiki boat skipper, coincidentally facing the same charge over his involvement in a protest against oil giant Petrobras on the East Cape in April.

As protesters rallied at the courthouse - some dressed in white boiler suits waving placards reading "No Drill No Spill" - Mana Party leader Hone Harawira drew loud cheers as he made a quip about the two captains.

"They should give one a gold medal and hang the other bugger."

Inside the court, the identities of the two Filipino Rena crewmen were ordered to remain a secret.

Wearing a casual shirt beneath a jumper, the 44-year-old captain appeared more rested than he did last Wednesday, when he stood in the dock with an unshaven, visibly tired face and clad in an orange boiler suit.

His 37-year-old navigation officer, wearing a navy blue jersey, sat beside him in the dock.

The court heard that the captain is likely to face a fresh charge under the Resource Management Act when he reappears with his crewmate next Wednesday.

Both already face charges under the Maritime Transport Act carrying a maximum penalty of $10,000 or a maximum prison term of 12 months.

They have been given interim name suppression because of fears for their safety from a public backlash - but a lawyer who challenged the order on behalf of Herald publishers APN and other major media companies said no threats had "come close" to a level of seriousness that would "clearly tip the balance against openness".

Keith Catran argued that the Bay of Plenty community was entitled to know the names and faces of those charged over the disaster.

The captain's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, asked Judge Robert Wolff to keep the suppression orders in place "until such time that the heat goes out of this".

"If he cannot be free to move safely then there's a problem for him and for us ... until such time as we know the potential outcome of what is clearly a disaster for us all ... I'm concerned if my client was identified in the street then he may be at risk."

Mr Mabey said public anger would grow "a thousandfold" if the ship's remaining 1300 tonnes of oil washed onto beaches.

Judge Wolff backed Mr Mabey. "This is not a case where the public needs to know the defendants' name to ensure there are further complainants or there is no further offending," the judge said.

The Opotiki skipper, 44-year-old Elvis Heremaia Teddy, told the Herald the timing of his unrelated status hearing - adjourned until December - was "ironic" in light of the Rena spill.

"It's brought it to the fore and hopefully that will change a few people's minds here in Tauranga."

Protesters cheered and clapped as he stepped outside court, among them Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

- NZ Herald

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