Rena: Captain Mauro Balomanga pleads guilty
The captain and second officer of a cargo ship that ran aground on a New Zealand reef last year have pleaded guilty to mishandling the ship and trying to cover up their responsibility for the environmental disaster.
The unidentified suspects, both Philippine nationals, were in charge of the Liberian-flagged Rena when it tore into a reef in the North Island's pristine Bay of Plenty October 5, 2011.
The wreck dumped 400 tons of fuel oil and killed thousands of fish and seabirds. New Zealand authorities call it the country's worst maritime disaster.
Both defendants pleaded guilty February 29 of charges of operating the ship in a dangerous manner and altering ship documents. They also pleaded guilty to discharging dangerous substances.
They will be sentenced on May 25 when the court will publicly identify the suspects.
Earlier, Captain Mauro Balomanga and second officer of the wrecked cargo ship Rena were set to appear in the Tauranga District Court facing a number of charges relating to the disaster.
The 44-year-old captain and navigation officer, 37, both Filipinos, face charges they "wilfully attempted to pervert the course of justice" by altering the ship's document after the grounding.
The captain faces four charges and the second officer three charges.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.
The charges were laid under the Crimes Act
They have also been charged with offences under the Maritime Transport Act and Resource Management Act - where the heaviest penalties are two years' prison and a $300,000 fine.
They are due to appear in court on February 29.
The container ship ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef, off the coast of Mt Maunganui, last October 5.Seventy-one containers were recovered this week, bringing the total to 625. Another 17 containers have been located but are yet to be recovered.