Mauro Balomanga appeared in a Tauranga city court amid a heavy police presence charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk as New Zealand grapples with its worst ever maritime pollution disaster.
Balomanga was bailed to reappear on October 19 with the court ordering media not to publish pictures showing his face after his lawyer expressed fears that “the public may take matters into their own hands” with anger running high.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of NZ$10,000 (B240,000) or 12 months in jail.
Up to 300 tonnes of heavy fuel has leaked into the environmentally sensitive Bay of Plenty since the Liberian-flagged Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef, 22 kilometres off the North Island coast, last Wednesday.
Maritime New Zealand said “significantly more oil” may wash ashore. By 11am Wednesday reports were coming in of sheets of oil, two to three metres wide, covering Papamoa beach.
Oil from the ship was spreading faster than expected, leaving dead animals in its wake and prompting Environment Minister Nick Smith to label the crisis as the country’s “worst maritime environmental disaster”.