A New Zealand court heard of fears for the safety of Filipino officers from a stricken container ship Wednesday as a firebrand politician told protesters its captain should "hang".
Officials said salvage crews reboarded the crippled Rena, which is the focus of a stop-start operation to pump remaining oil from its fuel tanks and prevent further pollution in the environmentally sensitive Bay of Plenty.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said the ship remained in one piece, despite heavy seas overnight, easing fears it will break apart on the reef it hit on October 5 and deepen New Zealand's worst maritime pollution disaster.
The ship's captain and first officer, both Filipino, reappeared in a Tauranga court Monday, charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, which carries a maximum penalty of one year's jail.
After the men's lawyers expressed fears they could be targeted over the spill, judge Robert Wolff reiterated an order made last week when the men first appeared, that their identities be suppressed
Saying that publishing the men's names would "underline the risk" they faced, Wolff continued bail and ordered them to again face court on November 2.
Their appearance coincided with a separate case in the same courthouse involving a local boat operator, Elvis Teddy, facing charges over a protest last April against offshore oil drilling.
A crowd of about 50 protesters gather to support Teddy outside the court and were addressed by outspoken Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, who noted that two ships' captains were in the dock on oil-related cases.
"Give Elvis a gold medal and hang the other bugger," the left-wing lawmaker told the demonstrators.
Harawira, a strong advocate for Maori rights, publicly apologised in May after praising slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter who stood up for his people.
He also stirred controversy last year when he said he would not want his children to date white New Zealanders.
Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MCS), which was chartering the Rena when it ran aground, said last week that most of the 25-man crew had returned to the Philippines and those still in New Zealand were in hiding for their own safety.
"We're not going to parade them in front of everyone in case some nutcase does something he shouldn't," MSC shipping agent Mike Hodgins told AFP.
Some 300 tonnes of oil from the Rena have already fouled beaches on the North Island bay, killing at least 1,300 birds, with the final toll expected to be significantly higher.