Scrap metal in the bay

Fresh, primed and pristine as a Finnish sauna goer after the serious media soft-soaping we’ve been receiving at the hands of Maritime New Zealand. We are told to expect another major oil clean up on the beaches of the East Coast. Fair call; with a sick ship creaking on a reef with a bloody great crack down the middle of it and over 1000 tonnes of oil still on board. Catherine Taylor – the director of Maritime New Zealand seemed amazingly calm when she spoke on Radio NZ saying she’d spoken to a ‘wonderful young Maori person’ at a local marae and that they’d said they ‘could do the clean up’ and that she was going to go and inform other Maori communities down the line so that they could get organised to do their stuff. I wonder what it would feel like on those local coastal marae to be consulted about a clean up having been almost totally ignored when it came to the consultation process regarding off shore drilling.

If we get told to expect more oil on the beaches often enough – it becomes an inevitable fact of life rather than an abhorrent preventable disaster and the public are far less likely to get upset about it. We are distracted by images of swimming pools of frolicking salvaged penguins and forget to ask the bigger, harder questions. John Key is insisting on the ‘unfortunate series of events’ line – unaware perhaps that we are unconsciously sending out the message to all our international guests that we are clean green and 100% pure NZ by total accident rather than good management. There appears to be an underlying assumption that this disaster is ‘just one of those things that happens’ and that we should just get over it and leave it to the experts. It is also symptomatic of a government who continues to behave as if the environment and the economy are two separate entities encased in impermeable sheaths and that the latter is the poorer cousin.

This government is set to shed over 100 DoC technical experts as unimportant, unaffordable luxury items. He is right however in that oil spills and shipwrecks are incredibly difficult things to manage. Having failed 7th form physics, I can’t pretend to understand what is going on in that big creaking piece of scrap metal in the bay. The people getting winched onto that dark and dangerous ghost ship to crawl through spaces attaching hoses deserve to be awarded national hero status and never have to work again.  Would their job have been so dangerous if the decision to act unilaterally by MNZ could have been made earlier in the window of good weather? It appears that the salvage operation is always the owner’s responsibility and Ms. Taylor has already admitted that the owner’s response was ‘tardy’ at which point Maritime NZ stepped in. When exactly should it be MNZ’s time to take over a salvage operation when there is a risk of a major environmental disaster? Couldn’t the oil response team take immediate control and then pass the bill to the owners? To be blunt; does a Greek boat owner possibly up to his neck in debt, really give a rat’s arse about what happens to a wreck that already looks like it was on its last legs anyway?

The Director of Maritime New Zealand is an accountant. It is fashionable to have hospitals, schools and our environment managed by accountants. Managers managing managers who oversee a committee of clipboard armed administrators. They make nice flow charts. MNZ have the authority given by the International Convention on Oil preparedness response and Cooperation to which NZ is a signatory, to levy oil and shipping companies to fund any clear up of spills. They also have a minimum level of equipment immediately available for a spill of up to 3,500 tonnes of oil, which covers the amount on the Rena then. I know this because the flow charts say so.

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