A French cruise company has been fined $70,000 for endangering human life and entering a prohibited zone following an incident in the remote New Zealand subantarctic islands.

The ship's master, Captain Regis Daumesnil, was also fined $30,000 today for his role in the incident.

Daumesnil and the company he worked for, Compagnie du Ponant, were sentenced in the Wellington District Court today.

They had pleaded guilty to charges following the grounding of the cruise ship L'Austral on an uncharted rock at the Snares Islands in January last year.

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Both Maritime NZ and the Department of Conservation (DoC) brought charges against Daumesnil, with DoC also prosecuting the company.

Charges were filed against Daumesnil under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 for causing unnecessary danger or risk to the people on board, and against both Daumesnil and the company under the Resource Management Act 1991 for entering a 300m exclusion zone around the islands.

The summaries of fact stated L'Austral had inadequate "passage plans" and failed to monitor the ship's position near hazards to navigation. As a result of the grounding the vessel's hull was punctured in three places.

Rather than return to Bluff, the nearest port, Daumesnil made the decision to continue on the cruise schedule to the Auckland Islands, a further 285km south.

There were 356 passengers and crew on board.

He reported the incident to French, but not New Zealand, authorities.

L'Austral continued its cruise and returned to Bluff on January 12. Divers were contracted to inspect the damage and temporary repairs were carried out.

On January 13, Maritime NZ officers carried out a regular Port State Control inspection of the ship. They became aware of the grounding, an investigation began and when it was discovered L'Austral had also entered an environmental exclusion zone DOC was advised and joined the investigation.

DoC southern South Island operations director, Aaron Fleming, said it was "pure good luck we did not have a potential environmental disaster" resulting from the incident.

"The Snares Islands are one of the jewels of our conservation estate and protected as a Unesco World Heritage site. DoC expects all visitors to respect and comply with the regulations which are in place to protect and preserve this pristine environment. They are a unique, unspoiled, but extremely sensitive site that is free of pollution and introduced pests and predators.

"More than five million birds, as well as sea lions, and whales breed there."

Maritime NZ southern regional compliance manager, Mike Vredenburg, said this case could have ended in tragedy and is a graphic warning of why passage planning is mandatory in New Zealand and internationally.

Daumesnil had an inadequate plan for sailing around North East Island, no plan at all for drifting close to shore while recovering boats, did not identify areas of danger, and did not monitor that the ship remained in safe water.

"His ship grounded, was holed and everyone on board was endangered. Captain Daumesnil then made the situation worse by sailing further away, from any possible help, should it have been needed."

Ponant was fined $70,000 and Captain Daumesnil was fined $20,000 on one charge each under the Resource Management Act.

In arriving at the final sentences, the court took account of the defendants' guilty pleas and other personal mitigation factors – for Ponant this included its previous safety record and good character and for Daumesnil the professional consequences that have resulted from the incident.

He was fined $5,000 on each of two charges under the Maritime Transport Act.

The court ordered 90 per cent of the fine laid under the Resource Management Act charges be awarded to DoC, on behalf of the Minister of Conservation, as the local authority for the subantarctic islands. DoC intends to use those funds towards planning for its Auckland Islands pest eradication project.