BOP Oil Spill Response Failure | The Jackal

7 Oct 2011

BOP Oil Spill Response Failure

Authorities have dismally failed to react properly to the grounding of the 236-metre cargo vessel MV Rena, which struck Astrolabe Reef north of Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty on Wednesday at approx 2.20 AM.

The Rena is reported to be carrying hazardous materials and an estimated 1500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board.

Although authorities initially tried to downplay the serious nature of the incident, a large amount of oil started leaking from the vessel after a pumping operation to move fuel from one side of the vessel to the other was undertaken. The oil was initially reported to be hydrolic fluid.

An attempt to chemically disperse the oil has failed, with the spill being reported yesterday as over five kilometers in length. The oil will wash up on surrounding shorelines and some birds have already been found dead.

Today, the Bay of Plenty Times reported that Maritime New Zealand was managing the operation and has declared a Tier 3 Response, due to the size and complexity of the grounding. However this is not strictly the case.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Director of Maritime New Zealand, Catherine Taylor issued the owner of the stricken cargo vessel with two notices under section 248 of the Maritime Transport Act 1994. This does not put MNZ in charge of the operation, but gives MNZ the ability to take control off the salvage company Svitzer, if MNZ deems it necessary. Under the Maritime Transport Act, the owners of the ship are liable for minner penalties, and a maximum fine of $200,000.

Earlier today, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the situation was worse than first thought, that there was a "significant amount of oil" and the vessel could break up due to its "precarious" position on the reef.

However Joyce did not give any details of what equipment was available to clean up the oil slick, remove what oil and fuel remain on the vessel or that the government had any plans to ensure the proper removal of whatever hazardous materials are on board. With bad weather predicted, the government seems unwilling to act to avert the disaster from escalating.

Back in April this year, the associate and acting Minister for Energy and Resources, Hekia Parata was questioned by Green MP David Clendon about New Zealand's oil spill capabilities:
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts who manage and train a team of around 400 local government and Maritime New Zealand responders. New Zealand has equipment and other stores strategically located around New Zealand. In addition, the Marine Pollution Response Service assists regional councils with exercise and oil spill equipment. The plan is responsive and is regularly evaluated to ensure it meets changing risk profiles.
It seems strange that we need to fly in experts from overseas when Parata said we already have "internationally respected experts" here in New Zealand already. Today, the Leader of NZ First, Winston Peters made some very good points about the lack of an adequate response to the incident:
More than 72 hours after the grounding of the MV Rena, with over 1500 tonnes of oil on board, at the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga the lack of urgency and inertia demonstrated by the Government is to be deplored.

Sitting around waiting for some overseas expert to arrive is surely not the answer. Shippers have for years paid a fee to cover such an event. Now that it is here the public should be demanding to know, where is Prime Minister Key, Transport Minister Joyce or Environmental Minister Smith.

The oil should be taken off the boat now as should any dangerous cargo. That is not what is happening. Moreover the dispersal agent being used is likely to be as dangerous as the oil itself because its characteristics are to take the oil to the sea floor where it’s danger to the marine ecology will have tragic effects.

Hekia Parata said New Zealand had the equipment to be able to respond to marine oil spills. This was clearly a blatant lie as there has been no equipment deployed to contain or clean up the leaking oil.