Thanks for the Oil
On the 5th October around 2:20am, the MV Rena carrying 1,368 containers found itself stranded upon the Astrolabe reef near Motiti Island and 22 kilometres off shore of the Bay of Plenty coast in New Zealand. This has been dubbed as the worst maritime and environmental disaster of the country with oil slick washing ashore the beaches of Mount Maunganui and Papamoa.
The Rena was travelling from Napier when it hit the Astrolabe reef. There have been suggestions as to why the Rena was close to the reef at all, the two prominent being the idea that the Captain was possibly intoxicated and that the cargo ship had “more than a dozen problems...which is threatening to break apart on the Astrolabe Reef.” Name suppression was granted for the Captain at Tauranga District Court on the 12th October and if convicted faces a fine of up to $10,000 and 12 months of imprisonment. Both Captain and Second Captain face charges of “operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk,” with the spillage of 130-350 tonnes of oil into the waters of the Bay of Plenty.
Bad weather increased the chances of more oil spilling and containers falling into the water with the increased probability of endangering the wildlife of the area. Dead birds have, so far, been the most evident ‘deadly’ outcome of the disaster with the number reaching at least 1,300. Pauline Conayne, a veterinarian involved in the retrieval and revival of the avian wildlife in the area says that “what we're seeing as far as the dead population that has been brought in is only a very small portion of what has died out there.” While there have been no deaths of numerous other wildlife that tend to frequent the area such as dolphins, seals and whales, wildlife teams have been out in the area to check that all are safe and well from the threats.
While this may appear to be a small oil spill and environmental disaster in comparison to other disastrous situations in the world (such as the BP oil spill in 2010) it is a very serious situation for the Bay of Plenty due to the nature of the area. The Bay of Plenty is home to marine reserves and wildlife including rare sea birds. The area also has a popular fishing and diving culture which will be affected by the recent events. Mount Maunganui and Papamoa beaches have also been closed due to the oil washing up on shore, and locals involved in the efforts to clean the beaches have been wearing protective suits in their work. The weather has also been threatening the Rena itself with four metre swells (13 foot) and 35 knot winds overnight (17/10/2011) which stopped efforts of salvage crews taking fuel from the ship and which has also threatened the increasing crack in the Rena, ultimately leading to a possible splitting of the ship into two over the reef.
The situation has not been ideal for the country, especially with the build up of the elections in the upcoming months. There have been criticisms of the National party and their leader, Prime Minister John Key and the lack of immediate action in response to the Rena’s oil spill. The 14th of October saw a drop in National Party’s polls and Labour Party “announced that it would impose a moratorium on deep sea drilling if elected to power.” This decision would seem likely to earn more votes as New Zealand prides itself on natural beauty and has prevented activity that would have disastrous consequences. There have been numerous images of John Key with National Party ad campaigns and John Key in a pristine swimming pool wishing all residents of the Bay of Plenty a good summer, such images have not increased the likelihood of new voters (those who have turned 18 in the last three years) voting for his party back in power for another three years.
When the BP oil spill occurred, there were numerous images and reports floating around the media about where it would be likely to deep sea drill. One area suggested and explored (with the possible consequences) was the waters off Papamoa where the Rena is currently stranded. If an oil spill were to occur on a major scale like the BP oil spill, the majority of the Bay of Plenty would be destroyed. If anything, this oil spill has confirmed how vulnerable the area is and how the country is lacking the immediate ability to deal with such situations.