Oil spill Fisk

I was going to fisk this post. Ok, maybe I will.

With the Rena now likely to sink and spill the rest of its fuel and cargo across one of our busiest ports and favourite holiday spots, its worth thinking about the future. Beyond the immediate cleanup, what policies can we put in place to prevent or mitigate such messes in the future?

Or to put it another way how can the left make political hay out of this tragedy.

I asked the Greens over Twitter, and their responsewas

For a start: 1. No deep sea drilling 2. Invest in infrastructure & capability of Maritime NZ… Also better engagement with communities when disasters do happen.

All of which seem like good ideas.

…and all of which are actually idiotic ideas.

The Rena has exposed the sheer inadequacy of Maritime NZ’s oil spill management plans, which are gone into in some detail by Brian Rudman in today’s Herald. Their three-tier response model places a significant part of the responsibility on organisations which either do not care (polluters)

Well, by definition polluters don’t care. But that’s irrelevant. Minor spills are cleaned up by those who create them, we are um, talking about a major spill here. Remember?

or are not properly equipped to deal with serious spills (regional councils).

Again, as Brian states (and Idiot ignores) regional councils aren’t supposed to be equipped to deal with serious spills.

Equipment needed to deal with severe spills is stranded in Auckland and takes significant effort to transport.

What a stupid idea, putting the equipment where it’s most likey to be needed!

The result is that they are effectively helpless when a big incident comes along.

Well, when a big incident comes a long in the wrong place it’s going to take some more organisation to get the spill cleaned up. But listening to the people who actually know what they’re talking about these things always take time and our response has actually been pretty fast.

Which in turn make the government’s plans to allow deep-sea drilling, with all the risks that that entails, pure madness.

I’m pretty sure that when someone saw the first plane crash back in 1903 or something, they declared that flying was pure madness too. But we move on and learn from every disaster, and today air travel is safer than it’s ever been and has made the world a much smaller (and one would suggest better) place.

As for the public, as we saw on Monday morning when oil began washing up and was left to locals to clean up (with no warning or guidance from officials, let alone organisation or reassurance that something would be done soon), the government’s communication has been… lacking.

Yea, outside of all those warning to stay off the beach, and reports about how the cleanup would begin when the slick proper hit the beaches, all the warnings about how toxic the oil… why, there’s been nothing at all!

Wait, could it be that people have just been pigheaded and short sighted at the first sign of oil on “their” beaches? No, it must be The Fault of the Government.

I hope the above sounds mad. Because I am mad when someone lies like that. The fact is that officials did give both warnings and guidance. People refused to listen. The government was very clear – this is a big job, handling a large, toxic mess which has only just started. But people got so panicked at the sight of small amounts of oil on the beaches that they lost sight of the fact that oil was going to be there for weeks to come. 

But there are other things we can do too. For example, its hard to understand how a ship can run aground on a charted reef in calm weather, unless the crew were negligent.

So we should tell every ship’s captain we meet to be careful.

The ship’s captain has already been charged with operating a ship in a dangerous manner, and the penalties there are appropriate for individuals. But clearly there’s a regulatory problem here as well. There are also issues around penalties for spills – the Maritime Act allows for a fine of up to $200,000 for a discharge of a harmful substance from a ship, while the RMA allows for fines of up to $600,000 for discharging contaminants without a resource consent, with strict liability. But that’s SFA to a shipping corporation,

Well, it’s not a trivial sum. But I agree that the maximum fine for this sort of thing needs to be drastically upgraded for large incidents like this.

and likely to be lower than the cost of running a ship safely so that it does not leak oil everywhere.

If you recall, Idiot once said that airlines would fly their planes in dangerous conditions deliberately because, heck, they were insured if they crashed.

He doesn’t seem to get the idea that companies lose money when stuff like this happens, that their reputations suffer and the lose profits because they aren’t delivering cargo. Let’s face it: even the most profit hungry and well insured shipping company in the world would never suggest that a ships captain take a shortcut over the location of a known reef.

Oh, and then there’s the fact that this ship isn’t leaking oil because it wasn’t maintained, or because costs were cut, it’s leaking oil because some idiot drove into a well marked reef. The cost difference in running a ship that runs into a reef and one that doesn’t is zero – a turn of the ships wheel.

So we need far better regulation of shipping, and far higher penalties for breaches, with actual enforcement so that captains and companies know they will face those penalties. Anything less is just inviting this to happen again.

Sadly, none of that changes one simple fact – sometimes people are stupid.

You could have a thousand regulations designed to stop ship’s captains from steering their vessels into the only reef in the harbour, but one day, someone is just going to not bother looking where he’s going.


  1. I’m pretty sure that when someone saw the first plane crash back in 1903 or something, they declared that flying was pure madness too. But we move on and learn from every disaster, and today air travel is safer than it’s ever been and has made the world a much smaller (and one would suggest better) place.

    Yes but the people making hay from this tiny oil leak hate air travel too.

    In fact they believe humans are a blight on the planet.

    1. Frankly when I see the beaches, I feel sickened.

      The last thing on my mind is making political capital capital from it. I wonder if the greens (by doing so) may find a backlash rather than a boost.

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