Captain took shortcut in New Zealand reef spill: report | News | DW | 08.03.2012
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Captain took shortcut in New Zealand reef spill: report

The captain of a ship that ran aground off New Zealand last year, spilling hundreds of tons of oil into the ocean, was taking a shortcut, an investigation into the Pacific nation's worst maritime disaster has found.

The Rena cargo ship smashed into a well-known reef on October 5 off the northern city of Tauranga. The resultant oil spill ruined pristine beaches and killed thousands of seabirds.

The preliminary report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission describes how the captain and navigating officer deviated from their planned route several times as they tried to make a 3 a.m. deadline to reach the port city.

Tauranga authorities radioed the vessel, recommending they make "best speed" before tidal changes would lead to delays arriving in port. As a result, the Rena's captain and navigating officer agreed to take the shortcut which reduced the distance to the Astrolabe reef to only 1 kilometer.

It was thought that tides and weather conditions had pushed the vessel slightly off its course.

Last month, the pair pleaded guilty to charges of mishandling the vessel and altering ship documents after the crash. The names of the men, both Filipino, were ordered suppressed until their sentencing, which is scheduled for May 25.

The cost of the cleanup was estimated at NZ$130 million (80.6 million euros).

dfm/cmk (AP, dpa)