Philippines thankful for Rena crew's treatment

SENTENCED: The Rena's navigating officer, Leonil Relon (left) and captain Mauro Balomaga in the dock at the Tauranga District Court.
SENTENCED: The Rena's navigating officer, Leonil Relon (left) and captain Mauro Balomaga in the dock at the Tauranga District Court.

The embassy of the Philippines has thanked New Zealand authorities for their treatment of the pair jailed for causing a maritime disaster.

Rena cargo ship captain Mauro Balomaga, 44, and navigator Leonil Relon, 37, were sentenced to seven months jail yesterday, after they were found responsible for running the ship aground on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga's coast on October 5.

They both faced charges under the Maritime Transport Act for operating a vessel in a manner likely to cause danger, under the Resource Management Act (RMA) for discharging a contaminant and three charges under the Crimes Act for altering ship documents.

Balomaga also faced an additional charge of altering ship documents. They pleaded guilty to all charges.

The Philippine embassy said it "appreciated" the observance of human rights laws by New Zealand authorities.

"The Philippine embassy appreciates the observance of the judicial process and respect for human rights from the time captain Balomaga and second officer Relon were detained and throughout the legal proceedings.

"The two officers acknowledged the humane and fair treatment extended to them by the New Zealand authorities in accordance with New Zealand laws and practice, the sustained support of their employers to them and their families in the Philippines, the invaluable assistance and advice of the Philippine Embassy and their lawyers, the care and compassion shown to them by the Filipinos and the understanding and concern of the local communities during this difficult period."

The embassy said Philippine shipping and ship manning industries were learning from the Rena, "and are taking the appropriate corrective measures and preventive actions".

It said the Philippines would work closely with Transport Accident Investigation Commission to ensure that the lessons learned from the Rena were translated into safety measures for ships manned by Filipino seafarers sailing in New Zealand waters.

In Tauranga District Court yesterday, Judge Robert Wolff said there were "systematic failures" in the ship's navigation which was the captain's responsibility.

"On the journey from Napier to Tauranga you, Mr Balomaga, were obsessed with the end to arrive at pilot station outside Tauranga by 3am. That put in train an unfortunate series of events that ultimately resulted in the accident," he said.

"In short the quality of navigation was such that you didn't have an accurate idea of precisely where you were. Your vessel did not have the appropriate charts that it ought to have had.

"After the collision you altered documents in order to obfuscate and cover up the reason the vessel collided with the reef."

Wolff told Relon his decisions "ultimately" caused the Rena to crash into the Astrolabe Reef on October 5.

"Having struck the reef there was an event the like of which this country has not seen before," he said.

"There was substantial ecological damage to marine wildlife and seabirds, the food resources of the indigenous people who reside on the coast, the incomes of those whose living is made from the sea ... and an entire community was sent into shock."

However, Wolff said he showed "true and genuine remorse".