The facts on Rena – UPDATED

The captain of the Rema and another officer have been charged with ‘operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk’.

It is difficult to understand how a container ship could hit a well marked  charted reef but the court case may answer some of the many questions about that.

In the mean time, a media release from National MP Dr Jackie Blue answers the critics who think the government should have done, and should still be doing more:

1. What are Government’s environmental priorities?

The main concern is the 1700 tonnes of heavy oil on the Rena, of which an estimated 350 tonnes has leaked.  The second priority is
the 80 tonnes of hazardous goods, albeit these raise greater occupational safety risks for the salvage operation than environmental risks to the Bay of Plenty community.  The third is the risk to shipping from the containers lost overboard.

 2. Why was oil not removed from the vessel earlier?

The heavy oil tanks on the Rena are serviced by pipes in the duct keel which was extensively damaged when the ship hit the reef. 
The time critical issue in getting the heavy oil off the ship was putting together the alternative pipe system to enable the tanks to be emptied.  A further priority was pumping oil out of the bow tanks that were damaged to the stern tanks.  An additional complication was intrusions within the tanks that made the job of getting the pumps in from the top difficult.  Even if the oil transfer vessel, the Awanuia, had arrived prior to Sunday it would not have changed the time when the pumping could have started.

3. Why were booms not placed to contain the oil around the ship?

Booms are only useful in very specific circumstances and their performance varies with the type of oil and sea conditions.  They don’t work in a chop of more than 0.5 metres or in any significant sea current.  The fuel oil in the ship is heavy grade and can float below the surface, also making booms less effective in this spill.  Absorption booms are being used in some of the estuaries, but are limited to areas where there
is low current.

4. What about the environmental safety of the dispersant being used?

Dispersants help reduce the harm of an oil spill by breaking up the oil and thus reducing the toll on birdlife.  It is most effective as soon as possible after the oil enters the ocean.  Five dispersants were trialled because different formulations work differently on different oil types.  The dispersant being used, Corexit 9500, is approved by the Environmental Protection Authority and has a low eco-toxicity.  It is similar to dishwashing liquid or washing powder.  It can have ecological effects in shallow waters that exceed its benefits and, as a consequence, its use is being limited to deeper waters.  The Government is taking a cautious approach to its use but decisions on this, like on other parts of the operation, are being made by technical experts.

 5. What implications are there from this spill for the Government’s plans for petroleum development
in the marine environment?

The Government has taken a very environmentally responsible approach in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.  There was an independent review of New Zealand’s regulations and systems for managing the risks.  This review found New Zealand’s regulations and systems were in good shape, with the exception of the gap in respect of assessment of environmental effects in the EEZ.  The Government has introduced legislation based on world’s best practise for the EEZ and put in place interim arrangements.  This legislation was supported by the Greens but opposed by Labour.  You should note that there were 14 test bores drilled in the deep sea during Labour’s last term, without any mandatory assessment of environmental effects.  The connection between this shipping based spill and proposed deep sea drilling are thin.  The risks are quite different and no one is suggesting that an export based country should ban shipping.

This is an environmental disaster but TV3 has a history of maritime disasters which put it into perspective:

An estimated 300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil has spilled into the sea from the  Rena so far.

* Last year the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded, spilling about 780,000  tonnes of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

* In 2003 the oil tanker Tasman Spirit ran aground off Karachi,Pakistan, spilling about 27,000 tonnes of crude oil.

* In 2002 the tanker Prestige wrecked on the Spanish coast leaked an  estimated 76,000 tonnes of crude oil.

* In 1989 the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska,  spilling up to 119,000 tonnes of crude oil.

* In 1978 the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the French coast and  broke up, spilling its cargo of 220,000 tonnes of light crude oil and 4000  tonnes of fuel oil into the sea.

And in New Zealand:

 * In 2002, the Jody F Millennium broke free from her moorings in Gisborne Harbour and ran onto the beach in rough seas. An  estimated 25 tonnes of fuel oil leaked out, coming ashore over about 8km of  coastline.

* Also in 2002, the Hong Kong-flagged carrier Tai Ping, carrying 9500 tonnes  of fertiliser, ran aground at Tiwai Point, at the entrance to Bluff Harbour.  After being grounded for nine days, the vessel was refloated with not a drop of  oil spilled.

* In 2000, the Seafresh 1 caught fire and sank off the Chatham Islands,  spilling 60 tonnes of diesel.

* In 1999, the container ship MV Rotoma discharged around 7 tonnes of oily  water off Northland’s east coast.

* In 1998, the Korean fishing vessel Don Wong 529 ran aground off Stewart  Island, spilling 400 tonnes of automotive oil.

NZ History online has a list of disasters among which are the following maritime ones:

* The Maria broke up on rocks near Wellington on  23 July 1851, with the loss of 26 lives.

* The sinking of the Orpheus which hit the Manakau bar in 1863 killing 189 of the 259 people on board.

* The City of Dunedin which disappeared without trace in 1865 with 39 passengers and crew.

* After fire broke out on board the Fiery Star in 1865 the captain and 77 passengers took to the lifeboats and were never seen again.

* The steamer Taiaroa struck rocks at the mouth of the Clarence River on 11 April 1886, and 34 people drowned.

* The sinking of the General Grant in 1866 resulted in the death of all but 15 of the 83 on board.

* In 1869, 20 people died when the St Vincent was wrecked in Palliser Bay.

* In  1881, the steamer  Tararua struck a reef at Waipapa Point, Southland. In all, 131 passengers and crew died, including 12 women and 14 children. Most were washed overboard and drowned while the rescuers were held back by high seas.

* The following year a sudden storm wrecked two large sailing ships, the City of Perth and Ben Venue, in Timaru’s exposed roadstead. Nine lives were lost. Among the dead were the port’s harbourmaster and five local watermen, who had tried to rescue the ships’ crews.

* In 1886 Taiaroa struck rocks near the mouth of the Clarence River, north of Kaikōura, and sank with the loss of 34 lives.

* In  1894 the steamer Wairarapa hit cliffs on Great Barrier Island, resulting in the deaths of 101 of the 186 passengers and 20 of the 65 crew.

*  In 1902 the three-masted sailing ship the Loch Long was wrecked off the Chatham Islands, with the loss of 24 lives.

*  The same year  the steamer Elingamite was wrecked on the Three Kings Islands, north of Cape Rēinga, with the loss of 45 lives.

* In 1909 the Cook Strait ferry Penguin struck rocks off Cape Terawhiti and sank with the loss of 72 lives.

* In 1950 the passenger launch Ranui, returning from a holiday trip to Mayor Island, was wrecked on North Rock, Mt Maunganui. Of the 23 people on board, only one survived.

* In 1951 the 10 crew on board  Husky and Argo, were lost during the centennial Wellington-Lyttelton yacht race. (My father was on board the Caplin, another yacht which entered the race).

* The Holmglen foundered north of Oamaru in 1959. All 15 crew were lost.

* In 1966 the collier Kaitawa was lost with all 29 hands.

* In 1968 the  Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine struck Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Of the 734 passengers and crew on board, 51 died (a 52nd victim died several weeks later, and a 53rd of related causes in 1990).

These don’t make the foundering of the Rema any better.

It is an environmental disaster which will have social and economic repercussions but no human lives have been lost, nor should any be put at risk in the recovery and clean-up.

UPDATE: Whaleoil has some graphics which also put the Rena into perspective.

Advertisements

10 Responses to The facts on Rena – UPDATED

  1. Cadwallader says:

    The Rema grounding is described as a disaster. I think it would have been more accurately described as a disaster were it an oil tanker.
    The blame needs to be sheeted home to the crew. It was the crew who drove the vessel on to the reef.
    Unfortunately everyone in talk-back land has moved from being a mines recovery expert to an expert on wrecks. I suggest the recovery operation ought be handed to the Labour caucus as their own wreck has been spewing bile for years! They surely must be experts by now.

  2. Quintin Hogg says:

    Cad,

    The persons who are responsible at law are the master and the navigation officer.

    Are you saying the cook is responsible? or the engineer in the engine spaces? They have no responsiblity for the navigation of the vessel. They are just blokes trying to earn a buck.

    I do wish the media would reduce the hysterical reportage and comment on the efficacy of booms, and the issues that surround the loading and discharge of bunkers.

    Astrolabe reef is charted on the relevant chart. It is not marked as there are no bouys or fixed lights indicating it’s position. If there had been the casualty might have been avoided.

  3. Cadwallader says:

    QH: I did mean the relevant crew.

    The thing that irritates me most here is those who object to off-shore oil exploration are using a navigation incident as a reason to abandon that venture.

  4. Quintin Hogg says:

    Cad,

    Agreed.

    It’s a navigation cock up pure and simple. That should not be a catalyst for a luddite response.

  5. Moist von Lipwig says:

    Good summary Ele.
    Quinton, I am glad others have noticed the hysterical reportage. Quite why they send 20 something know-nothing TV news bimbos to cover such an event, is beyond me. One was reporting on the news this morning, that “container ships” were continuing to fall off the ship! Their presence is not without humour though. Watching the frantic karate chopping of one hand as they speak. What’s that all about? And standing in the full force of the wind shouting at the camera never fails to amuse. Do they not have the sense to get out of the wind?

  6. Andrei says:

    Dr Jackie Blue, List MP from Auckland, issues a press release.

    Jeepers.

    No doubt it gives the impression she is an important player in the unfolding drama. Hah!!!!

    Meantime out on the ocean, seamen and engineers from Svitzer hired not by Dr Jackie Blue, not even by John Key but the ship owners are doing their thing, luckily not under the watchful gaze of OSH who would be having kittens if they saw some of the risks being taken I’m sure.

    And the salvors coming from the doing class, rather than the chattering class will hopefully be able to contain the situation and salvage the cargo.

    And the more successful they are in this enterprise the more the chatterers will manoeuvre to garner some of the credit for themselves.

  7. JC says:

    Moist,

    They are not reporting news.. they are trying to make it with their own staff as the stars.

    JC

  8. Pdogge says:

    HP..something wrong with your clock and I live here and it is truly awful.

    I am musing on why present and previous governments (note “s”) have not seen need for emergency response arrangements of a higher order than what we have seen in past few days

  9. homepaddock says:

    Clock Pdogge? You’ve lost me there.

    I don’t think anyone is saying it’s not awful.

    Read the post again and listen to Nick Smith: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/20111013

    The pipes on the ship were damaged, the oil is the consistency of marmite and couldn’t have been pumped without heating – it couldn’t have been pumped off.

    What could have been done or done more quickly?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: