Filipino sailors released from prison in NZ

The Filipino captain and second officer of a cargo ship that ran aground off New Zealand in 2011 have been expelled from the South Pacific country after serving half of their prison terms.

New Zealand media reports said Captain Mauro Balomaga and Leonil Relon of the ill-fasted MV Rena were freed from the Waikeria Prison and had flown back to the Philippines.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez, quoting the Philippine Embassy in Wellington, said that the pair, after their release, spoke with embassy officials but did not provide their flight details.

The two officers told the Philippine embassy that they were treated well and did not encounter any difficulties. They also thanked the embassy for the assistance and support extended to them as well as the numerous Filipinos who reached out to them.

Media reports quoted Balomaga and Relon’s lawyer Paul Mabey saying the two were eager to be reunited with their families and that they might get their old jobs back.

Balomaga and Relon were each sentenced to seven months in prison last May after they pleaded guilty to the charges of operating a ship dangerously, being officers of a vessel that released contaminating materials into a coastal area, and altering ship documents after the Rena crashed into Astrolabe Reef near the port city of Tauranga in New Zealand’s North Island on October 5, 2011.

The two were jailed about three and a half months. Under New Zealand’s parole law, anyone sentenced to be imprisoned two years or less must be released after serving half of their sentence. There was substantial ecological damage to marine wildlife and seabirds, the food resources of the indigenous people who reside on the coast, the incomes of those whose living is made from the sea … and an entire community was sent into shock.”