The decision to prosecute the Rena's owner is welcome but highlights the inadequacy of the laws for recouping the costs of a major environmental disaster, the Green Party says.

Maritime New Zealand today announced Greece-based Daina [SUBS TICK] Shipping Co has been charged under two sections of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), which relates to the "discharge of harmful substances from ships'' in the coastal marine area.

The charge carries a maximum fine of $600,000 and $10,000 for every day of continued offending.

The cargo ship Rena spilled some 350 tonnes of oil after grounding on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga on October 5.


Daina Shipping Co is the registered owner of the vessel and has overall responsibility for the operation of the ship.

The charge has been laid in the Tauranga District Court and the Master and Second Officer of the ship are scheduled to be sentenced there on May 25.

The two men pleaded guilty in February to charges laid by MNZ last year.

No further charges will be laid by MNZ in relation to the grounding.

Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the decision to lay charges was a good move.

But he said it highlighted the inadequacy of laws for recouping costs relating to a major environmental disaster.

"The total cost of the clean-up is estimated at $130 million but the maximum fine under the RMA is only $600,000,'' he said.

"Taxpayers are footing the clean-up bill because our laws and regulations are inadequate for recouping the full costs.''

Mr Hughes said the Government needed to sign up to international conventions that allowed it to pursue the full cost associated with such disasters.

He said new rules to avert environmental disasters were needed because the current small penalties did not act as a deterrent.

Mr Hughes also urged the need for compulsory shipping lanes, greater numbers of local crew members, and better financial protections.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Amy Adams said it would be inappropriate to comment, as the matter was now before the courts.

Daina Shipping parent company Costamare was approached for comment but was unable to immediately respond.