Owners of the wrecked container ship Rena could face charges for liability as the Government looks to recoup the costs for the disaster's clean-up through the courts.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said this week that the clean-up bill had reached as much as $130 million.

Now the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Maritime New Zealand are looking to prosecute under the Resource Management Act.

Eddie Grogan, regional council group manager (water management), said a positive outcome from the courts could result in fines and refunded clean-up bills.


"The fine is limited by statute to $300,000 for individuals and $600,000 for companies and/or a custodial sentence not exceeding three years. In addition there is a fine for an ongoing offence of $10,000 per day that the offence continues."

Although the disaster occurred off the Bay of Plenty, which would usually mean the local regional council led prosecutions, in this case Maritime NZ had taken the reins, with the council in a support role.

Neither the council nor Maritime NZ would comment on how any money awarded would be spent.

Meanwhile, salvors say they are making steady progress removing containers from the wreck's bow.

Svitzer salvage master Paul van't Hof said it was unclear how many containers were still on board but about 250 were on the bow.