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New Zealand charges owners of stricken ship with causing environmental disaster

The owners of the stranded and sinking cargo ship Rena are being charged for damage in New Zealand's worst maritime environmental disaster. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- 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-ton Liberian-flagged ship Rena struck a reef about 12 miles off Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest export port, in early October.

The charge carries a maximum fine of $488,000. The owners face an additional daily fine of $8,130.

PhotoBlog: Stern of stricken container ship sinks off New Zealand

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.

Maritime New Zealand via Reuters

The bow section of the stricken container ship Rena remains above water about 14 nautical miles from Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, in this April 4 handout picture. The remains of the ship are stuck on a rock reef six months after it ran aground, in what authorities say is one of the nation's worst environmental disasters.

The ship spilt around 3301 tons of thick, toxic fuel oil when it hit the reef, killing thousands of sea birds and polluting beaches up to 60 miles from the reef.

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