WELLINGTON, April 5 (Reuters) - The owners of a stricken container ship wrecked on a reef off a popular New Zealand holiday spot have been charged with causing the country’s worst environmental disaster in decades, maritime officials said on Thursday.
Daina Shipping, a unit of Greece’s Costamare Inc., has been charged with discharging harmful substances after its 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged ship Rena struck a reef about 20 km (12 miles) off Tauranga, New Zealand’s biggest export port, in early October.
The charge carries a maximum fine of NZ$600,000 ($488,000). The owners face an additional daily fine of NZ$10,000.
The ship’s captain and second officer have already pleaded guilty to operating the ship in a dangerous manner, releasing toxic substances and to altering the ship’s documents.
The two Filipino men face sentences of up to seven years in jail. They will be sentenced in late May.
Marine officials said high winds and seas have battered the wreck, causing more containers to fall into the sea and spreading oil still leaking from the ship.
The ship spilt around 300 tonnes of thick, toxic fuel oil when it hit the reef, killing thousands of sea birds and polluting beaches up to 100 km (60 miles) from the reef.