13 October 2011

Rena: Cargo ship stuck on reef off Tauranga, NZ

While the waters around New Zealand are never bath water temperature as I'm more used to in Florida or northern Australia, the beaches are amazingly beautiful to walk, explore, sit upon, enjoy.

There's nothing enjoyable about
Papamoa beach this morning. It's has waves of oil washing up on to it, covering fragile plant life, wildlife and sand. Hundreds of dead birds, including an albatross, have been found dead. Shell fish and a fragile eco-system will be affected for quite a long time, until the sea can do its natural flushing, cleaning and reclaiming.

A cargo ship cut a corner, drove up on to a narrow reef which acted like a can opener, and was itself cut open. Pipes and tanks were mangled spilling heavy fuel oil into the sea. The mangled pipes are complicating efforts to empty the tanks into barges as the couplings and pumps can't function properly.

The captain and first mate have been charged in court, but it is the NZ government who are targets of criticism, as if they'd driven the ship up there themselves. Of course, opposition parties are using it as a bully bat with elections about 6 weeks away. Critics have raised the question of a timely response, was Maritime NZ properly prepared & equipped, who allows dodgy ships into NZ waters, etc.

How would any government anticipate the tragic series of recent events NZ has faced?

  • the Pike River mining disaster for which specialists and specialist equipment had to be brought in
  • the Christchurch earthquakes which have affected lives and businesses of Canterbury, and the economy of the entire country
  • and now the Rena.
Nevil Gibson of the National Business Review says,

Maritime New Zealand, the government agency charged with handling the Rena’s grounding, is getting plenty stick for lack of speed in the way it’s handling an exceptional accident that should never have happened.

Yet its planning for such an event is well documented and it is probably going as much to plan as possible, with only the weather adding complications.

Media coverage of such events invariably exaggerates and overdramatises, assisted by inadequate knowledge and background – though that is available if it is sought.

Emotional “how do you feel” dominates the angles and public response is mainly informed by ignorance. The media are driven by agendas ranging from political objectives (such as casting the government in poor light) to eco-alarmism.

The normal reaction to such events is to deal with it as expeditiously as possible and punish those responsible. The costs, too, will no doubt be recovered as much as possible from the ship owner’s insurance company.

Local people understandably want to jump in and help rescue wildlife and clean up the beaches, but some are seemingly unaware that there are dangers to consider and best-practice approaches to the task ahead. Some of the container's contents are toxic, especially when in contact with water. Looters may receive instant justice!

Massey University has set up their Oily Wildlife Response Unit. More than 36 response teams are washing the avian survivors and monitoring their well being. What of the kids parents took down to the beach yesterday to pick up the 'globules of smelly, semi-solid goo'? You'd think the choking fumes would be a clue that the tainted environment needed a careful approach. Pet owners ahve been warned to keep dogs off the beaches.

Ignoring potential toxic poisoning, locals speak to the cameras, complaining that no one is doing anything. Maybe this is a time for
"Don't just do something, stand there." and think through what the best thing to do might be. I'm sure that was the main objective in the conversations Maritime NZ was having in the early days after the Rena stuck. I'm sure John Key, Steven Joyce and Nick Smith were not just closing their eyes and hoping it would go away. Ships full of oil and loaded with containers do not just go away.

Hear from Prime Minister John Key via NZ Herald.

Papamoa Beach photo by Hayden Donnell http://www.twitpic.com/6zfbae

While Conversations@Intersections is not a blog dedicated to news stories or shipwrecks, our focus is the conversations we hear at intersections where people gather and talk about things of interest and importance. Last week, all the conversations in New Zealand were about rugby. Now a ship named Rena has stolen headlines, and summer holiday plans.

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