Filipino captain in N.Z. sea pollution crisis charged

Posted: 10/15/2011 in all marine news

News Malaysia – 

The Filipino captain of a ship stuck on a New Zealand reef was arrested and charged Wednesday as up to 70 containers fell into rough seas and a black tide of oil washed up on beaches.

Mauro Balomanga appeared in a Tauranga city court amid a heavy police presence charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk as New Zealand grapples with its worst maritime pollution disaster.

Balomanga was bailed to reappear on October 19 with the court ordering media not to publish pictures showing his face after his lawyer expressed fears that “the public may take matters into their own hands” with anger running high.

According to local reports, Balomanga had captained the ship only since March. The charge carries a maximum penalty of NZ$10,000 ($7,800), or 12 months in jail.

Up to 300 tonnes of heavy fuel has leaked into the environmentally sensitive Bay of Plenty since the Liberian-flagged Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef, 22 kilometres (15 miles) off the North Island coast, last Wednesday.

Overnight, containers began plunging off the stricken vessel in heavy seas, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said, but none of them contained hazardous material.

It was highly likely more containers will topple off because of the severe weather conditions and the vessels heavy list, MNZ said, despite tying them down tightly to prevent them falling in.

“There are 1,368 containers on board. Eleven containers containing hazardous substances are still on the vessel and are not among the 70 estimated overboard,” an MNZ statement said, adding major shipping had been re-routed.

An aerial survey, likely to go ahead later in the day when the weather improves, would give a clearer indication of exactly how many containers had crashed into the increasingly choppy waters, the maritime body said.

MNZ, which has issued an emergency telephone number for the public to call if they see any of the containers on the beaches, warned people they would be prosecuted if they tried to take what was inside them.

Radio New Zealand reported a floating crane was en route from Singapore to move the rest of the containers off the Rena, which is now listing at a precarious angle.

On Tuesday, the ship issued a mayday and nearby boats, including six navy vessels, scrambled to evacuate a salvage crew when the Rena shifted position on the reef as it was pounded by huge waves.

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