Responsibility For Rena Disaster Lies With Government

The Liberian flagged MV Rena

“The Maritime Union says that the responsibility for the Rena disaster lies with Government and authorities as much as with individual crew members.

Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the arrest today of the master of the Rena on serious charges should not deflect attention away from the greater responsibility for the disaster.

He says New Zealand Government and authorities have created a situation where substandard flag of convenience shipping has been encouraged and enabled.

“1990s legislation from the then National Government created the so-called ‘open coast’ policy and this has meant that unacceptable practices have become the norm in New Zealand waters – it’s a case of out of sight and out of mind.”

Mr Fleetwood says a Maritime New Zealand “inspection” of the Rena in Bluff on 28 September 2011 apparently consisted of the inspector asking the Master whether previous problems had been fixed.

“This is the same Master that the authorities are now trying to pin the blame on a couple of weeks later after the disaster.”

“But at the time of the inspection they obviously were prepared to take the Master at his word that everything was hunky dory on his ship, despite the fact it had been hauled up in China and Australia for multiple problems.”

Mr Fleetwood says if this is the standard approach of Maritime New Zealand to dealing with obviously problematic vessels, the only surprise in the grounding of the Rena is that it hadn’t happened earlier.

He says the Union is very concerned about the welfare of crew members and wanted access to them to provide independent support.

“Can you imagine the stress of these seafarers, many with dependent families, who have spent nearly a week onboard a stricken vessel in mortal fear of their lives, and some only being taken off by helicopter after a Mayday call when the ship appeared to be in imminent catastrophe.”

He says it is now becoming a regular theme that systemic policy and regulation failures are resulting in serious harm to workers, the community and the environment.

“It is about time that the elected leaders started copping it when things go wrong rather than putting a smother over it and trying to shift the blame.”

He says the Union was repeating its call for all Maritime New Zealand reports on the Rena to be made public as soon as possible.

“If the authorities have managed to arrest the captain in such a fast manner, they can start to make public their own processes for full transparency and accountability to the New Zealand public.”

Mr Fleetwood says the Union has been arguing for stronger regulation of shipping for years in New Zealand waters, but Government’s have not wanted to hear the message.

He says the Union has had longstanding concerns that Maritime New Zealand regulations and inspections of flag of convenience vessels were superficial, limited and not strict enough.

The Union has compiled a short list of some of the flag of convenience shipping issues that it has been involved in over the last few years (see end of media release).

Mr Fleetwood says comment by Transport Minister Steven Joyce that the Maritime Union’s views were “political” were accurate.

“Mr Joyce is right. The issue is political. It is political because the John Key led National Government have been happy to have flag of convenience ships running on the New Zealand coast as a result of their political decisions.”

“In this case their political decision to promote and allow flag of convenience shipping on the New Zealand coast has had real life consequences, which have proved far beyond the political ability and the practical ability of the Government to deal with.”

“If we allowed trucks on New Zealand roads that were licensed in Liberia or some other semi-functioning failed state, and driven by unregulated overseas drivers, there would be an outcry. Yet that is what we allow on the New Zealand coast and now we are paying the price.”

Mr Fleetwood says in addition to its campaigning against Flag of Convenience shipping it had lobbied the Government last year with a plan to provide a fast response vessel for offshore oil spills.

The Union approached the Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Gerry Brownlee, as well as the Minister of Transport Hon Steven Joyce and Minister of Environment Hon Nick Smith, in July 2010 to support the introduction of a ready response vessel for the maritime sector to cope with oil spills and similar events.

This ready response vessel would have been aimed at the offshore oil and gas industry but could easily have been used to quickly respond to oil leaks in the current Rena disaster.

The Union was told to send their information into a Ministry of Economic Development review, which it did.”

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Also read Release Rena Inspection Reports Say Maritime Union