The crew of the container ship which ran aground off New Zealand's Tauranga port spilling heavy fuel oil in the country's worst environmental disaster was taking a "short cut" to beat a deadline, says an investigation by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).
A Commission interim report released on Thursday said the crew of the Greek-flagged 'Rena' sailed closer to the coast than planned to save time, and ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef on October 5 last.
Bunker oil leaked from the stricken ship polluted the pristine waters of the Bay of Plenty and some of New Zealand's enchanting beaches. The oil spill had killed hundreds of seabirds besides causing irreparable damage to the country's marine fauna.
The captain and navigating officer, both Filipinos, have pleaded guilty to mishandling the vessel and tampering with the ship's documents after the crash. They are likely to be sentenced on May 25.
The TAIC investigation found that the captain and his navigating officer made several course changes as they tried to get to their port by a deadline of 03 a.m. local time. Around two hours before then, the Tauranga port authorities had warned that they needed to make "best speed" to avoid changes in the tides which would delay them by several hours.
The captain then changed the course to pass within two kilometers of the well-marked reef, rather than the recommended 4.8 kilometer distance. Around nine minutes before the accident, the captain noticed an echo on the ship's radar screen, but continued on the course at 17 knots ramming the ship onto the reef. The ship later broke into two throwing the containers into the sea.
The cleanup cost of $108 million was largely met by insurers.
The TAIC report is the first to come out on the Rena accident but was independent of Maritime New Zealand's regulatory action, environmental enforcement action, or financial claims relating to the grounding, the New Zealand Herald reported quoting the commission.
by RTT Staff Writer
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