Rena captain apologises


The Filipino captain of the ship who caused New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster has issued a public apology for the catastrophe and for trying to cover up his role.

Mauro Balomaga was deported to the Philippines this month after serving half of a seven-month jail term for operating the containership Rena in a dangerous manner and attempting to falsify navigation records.

Balomaga told The New Zealand Herald of the guilt he felt knowing his actions had caused so much devastation.

The containership ran aground on the Astrolabe reef near the port of Tauranga on 5 October, spilling hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil, fouling beaches and killing thousands of seabirds in what was  described as New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster..

“We did not think it would come to that point. Of course we felt sorry about it,” Balomaga said in his first public statement about the disaster.

“During the course of the interviews and the investigations, we did apologise on the record, but that was for the safe-keeping of the authorities, and not for the public.”

Balomaga admitted taking a shortcut on the way to the port of Tauranga, but said he was surprised that theRena ploughed into the reef — even though it had showed up on the ship’s radar 15 minutes before the grounding.

“It was really unexpected… We thought we may not be able to save it completely, but we could limit the damage and we could save the ship… That was our thinking initially.”

The New Zealand government has estimated the on-going disaster clean-up will cost NZ$130 million (US$109 million), most of which will be covered by the Rena’s owner, Greece-based Costamare Shipping Company, and its insurers. 

Ongoing salvage operations have been hampered by high winds and swells, but the project remains on schedule to be completed by the end of the year.

With the arrival of a crane barge and a specialised team of divers from the US, underwater salvage operations are expected to gather pace, said Maritime NZ.

The crane barge – which operates from deeper water at the aft end of the bow section – can raise significantly larger pieces of steel (up to 40 tonnes) than helicopters.