New Zealand oiled birds killed by corporate greed

This video from New Zealand is called Rena oil spill: Containers floating to shore threaten wildlife.

By John Braddock in New Zealand:

Ship grounding creates New Zealand’s worst environmental disaster

14 October 2011

Hundreds of tonnes of oil spilling from the cargo ship Rena have begun washing up on nearby beaches and killing marine and bird life. Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef, 20 kms off the New Zealand port of Tauranga, on October 5th. A spokesman for the conservative National Party-led government, Environment Minister Nick Smith, has admitted that the unfolding crisis is the country’s “worst maritime environmental disaster”.

The situation has deteriorated over recent days as high seas have battered the stricken container ship, and it now appears on the verge of breaking in two. Efforts to offload 1,400 tonnes of fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel have repeatedly failed. Oil gushing from the ruptured hull has spread faster and further than the authorities expected, discharging at five-fold the rate it had during the first six days of the grounding. Congealed oil has appeared on the coast as far as 40kms from the grounding site.

The beachside suburbs of Mount Maunganui and Papamoa, which adjoin the harbour entrance, are densely populated and their pristine surroundings attract thousands of summer holiday-makers. A marine ecologist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Drew Lohrer, predicts the toxic wastes washing up on the shoreline could “take years or decades” to disappear naturally.

More than 70 shipping containers have fallen from Rena, with some reaching Motiti Island off the coast of Tauranga and local beaches. The containers often float just below the surface and are difficult to track. On Thursday night, the Port of Tauranga had to suspend operations due to the threat posed by rogue containers in shipping lanes.

Defying calls from officials, frustrated locals have begun trying to clear potentially toxic waste off the beaches, which have now been closed to the public. Many people have expressed anger at the slow response by authorities, noting that almost nothing was done during the first three days after the grounding, when the weather was fine. The air is becoming so toxic that Maritime NZ (MNZ) officials are considering issuing masks to residents.

An audience of 300 at a Tauranga public meeting on Tuesday criticised officials in attendance. Residents demanded to know whether the shipping company would pay for repopulating the affected wildlife areas, what dangerous cargo was aboard and what would happen if the ship sank. A Greenpeace representative drew loud applause when he called on Environment Minister Smith to stop using the oil dispersant Corexit 9500. The minister was heckled as he tried to defend the chemical, with some shouting, “It’s banned overseas.” One woman demanded to know why 18,000 metres of protective boom in an Auckland warehouse was not being used.

Government spokesmen claimed bewilderment over the grounding, saying that the reef was clearly marked on nautical maps and the ship had run into it at full speed in good weather. The captain—described by the ship’s owners as an experienced master with an “exemplary record”—and a navigational officer have been charged under Section 65 of the Maritime Act which covers “dangerous activity” involving ships. More charges are expected to follow.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the grounding was a disaster waiting to happen, for which the authorities were totally unprepared. Despite its proximity to the country’s second busiest trading port, the Astrolabe Reef has no visual markings or radar reflection device. On the day the Rena struck the reef, MNZ reportedly declined an offer of two inflatable barges which could have pumped out up to 100 tonnes of oil at a time. A MNZ spokesman said the offer was logged with its operations division, and “if they needed it they would have followed it up.”

As with two other major disasters in the past year—the Pike River mine explosion which killed 29 miners last November, and the Christchurch earthquakes in which 182 people died—the deadly consequences of government and corporate cost-cutting designed to boost private profits are again being exposed.

Unsafe conditions have come to dominate the shipping industry over the past two decades. Under the so-called “open coast” policy introduced by the National government in the early 1990s and maintained by subsequent Labour administrations, deregulation has become the norm. In 2002 a flag of convenience ship, the Jody F. Millenium ran aground in Gisborne and polluted 8kms of coast with 25 tonnes of oil.

The Liberian-registered Rena had been allowed to continue operating despite faults identified during previous inspections in China and Australia. According to the Maritime Union, “multiple deficiencies” were found in an MNZ inspection of the vessel at the port of Bluff on September 26. This included issues with its charts as well as maintenance and equipment, main engine propulsion, covers and doors, lifeboats stowage, emergency fire pump and the auxiliary engine. Despite these problems, the vessel was allowed to proceed. Onerous and exploitative working conditions also prevailed on board. The ship had made four port calls in the five days before the grounding, with her captain and officers working around the clock loading and discharging cargo.

Behind the Rena are powerful and wealthy maritime companies. The vessel is currently on a five-year charter to the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the world’s second largest container shipping corporation. The Rena is one of 18 ships the company charters in New Zealand to transport goods to Asia. MSC refused to accept any responsibility for the state of the Rena or its management, insisting this rested with the vessel’s owner, Costamare Inc. Costamare is owned by a family of Greek multi-millionaires and boasts a fleet of some 60 container vessels.

Writing in the New Zealand Herald on October 12, commentator Brian Rudman noted that a formal review of New Zealand’s Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Capability, released in June this year, expressed concerns about many of the issues that have now emerged. Conducted by leading Australian maritime consultancy Thompson Clarke Shipping, it identified various issues that should be addressed to “significantly” improve MNZ’s “capability to respond”.

The review noted that “it is essential that on-site response agencies have access to equipment that is not only effective but of a size and weight that facilitates quick deployment if the potential effects of an oil spill are to be mitigated successfully at an early stage.” A PricewaterhouseCoopers Audit of marine oil spill preparedness from 2001 reports council and port officials complaining of MNZ equipment being bulky and labour-intensive and not suitable for rapid deployment. Successive New Zealand governments have done nothing to rectify the situation.

The review also expressed surprise at the “hands off” approach of port companies, including the operator of Marsden Point, the country’s only oil refinery. Under the corporatised model contained in the Port Companies Act, introduced by Labour in 1988, “the principal objective of every port company is to operate as a successful business.” The act specifically excludes them from taking on the previous harbour board’s statutory functions “relating to safety or good navigation”.

In the face of growing anger over the government’s handling of the crisis, Prime Minster John Key declared that whoever was responsible for the disaster would be held “to account”. He admitted, however, that because the ship company’s insurance liability was capped, it was likely “the taxpayer” would have to pick up the rest of the bill. In other words, corporate culpability and government indifference will again go unpunished while the multi-million dollar costs of trying to rectify the damage will be borne by ordinary people.

Why rehabilitate oiled birds and other wildlife? What we’ve learned in 40 yrs of 200+ oil spill responses: here.

Update 20 January 2012: here.

The Rena broke in two, worsening the environmental disaster, as the government sought to scapegoat the ship’s captain and navigation officer: here.

New Zealand: The Department of Conservation (DOC) has approved an extension to an open cast gold mine on the West Coast with the knowledge that it will kill and displace more than 1,000 birds and animals: here.

This video says about itself:

22 November 2011

These little blue penguins were contaminated by oil after the Rena Oil Spill disaster in New Zealand. They are released into the ocean after being cleaned at the oiled wildlife facility.

14 thoughts on “New Zealand oiled birds killed by corporate greed

  1. We need a new law. Any time an oil company has a “spill” they should be required to donate five years worth of their profits to conservation. I bet they’d figure out a way to stop spilling oil real quick.


  2. Hi doudou, thanks for this, your first comment here, and your many likes for my blog.

    I think you are right. However, many of the present politicians in power have links to Big Oil; so they might not want such a law.

    All the best for your blog, and your birds!


  3. 13.01.2012 / 13:19

    Wildlife dying unseen in New Zealand oil spill: WWF

    WELLINGTON. January 13. KAZINFORM The number of wild animals reported killed in an oil spill from a cargo ship that hit a New Zealand reef more than three months ago is just a tiny fraction of the real figure, a major conservation group said Friday; Kazinform refers to Xinhua.

    With the 45 dead oiled birds reported by New Zealand shipping authorities since the Liberian-flagged Rena began to sink on Saturday, the total recorded number of animals killed in the disaster stood at 2,066, according to WWF-New Zealand.

    “The true number of wildlife killed by the spill will be far greater than the numbers recovered – the corpses the teams are collecting are the tip of the iceberg, and of course the number of animals affected by the spill is greater still,” said WWF-New Zealand marine program manager Rebecca Bird.

    “This latest release of oil occurred during a significant storm, so oiled birds would have drowned more quickly and many will disappear from view,” said Bird in a statement.

    “The vessel breaking up, discharging more oil and harming more wildlife, clearly puts more pressure on an already damaged environment. However if this had happened before the majority of the oil was removed, it would have been an even greater catastrophe,” she said.

    WWF praised the wildlife recovery efforts led by the National Oiled Wildlife Recovery Team coordinated by Maritime New Zealand ( MNZ) as “world class.”

    However, WWF-New Zealand marine advocate Bob Zuur said, proposed legislation governing New Zealand’s offshore environment – the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill – would fail to protect wildlife from future spills; Kazinform cites Xinhua.


  4. Rena penguins attacked by dogs

    1:35 PM Wednesday Jan 18, 2012

    First they were covered in Rena’s oil, now Bay of Plenty penguins are being attacked by dogs.

    There had been an increase in the number of sea birds being mauled by dogs on Bay beaches, Oropi Native Bird Rescue Haven manager Christine Jefferson said.

    The seven birds in her care had been attacked by dogs after they came to shore exhausted from swimming in the ocean.

    “After a day swimming these poor little things have got on to the beach and all they want is a rest before they go to their burrows. The dog sees this poor tired little thing that’s just come out of the water and it’s fair game,” she said.

    “Some of them [dogs], will just bite them and go on their way … [but] we’ve actually got one that was pulled from its burrow by its legs. Its stomach was ripped and its little feet.

    “Some of them are not as lucky and they get grabbed by the head. And that’s where you get the teeth going into their eyes and blinding them.”

    Mrs Jefferson, who owns dogs, said it was up to owners to better control their animals.

    “There’s a heck of a lot of responsible dog owners out there but there’s others who are not.

    “I just think dogs should be under control. That’s all it is,” Mrs Jefferson said.

    “I have no objection to the dog being off the leash if it’s nearby, but if it’s 200m down the beach then they’re not being controlled.”

    The penguins are likely to remain in danger until the end of summer.

    Adult penguins were currently moulting, which meant that for three weeks they were not waterproof and must remain on land.

    There were also plenty of young birds in the area following the summer breeding season and they can be easy prey for curious dogs, Mrs Jefferson said.



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  6. Rena disintegration ‘could pose risk to environment’

    Updated at 2:38 pm on 10 June 2012

    A scientist says the slow breaking down of the container ship Rena could pose a risk to the environment.

    Since running aground on Astrolabe reef off the coast of Tauranga in October, the ship has broken in two with the stern section, containing the crew’s quarters, now underwater.

    The waters around the reef have almost returned to the state they were in before the ship struck the reef.

    However Chris Battershill, who is surveying the impact of the grounding on the environment, says what’s left of the Rena has the potential to be concerning.

    In the summary of facts read out for the sentencing of the ship’s captain, it was revealed that if the original fixtures on the ship, such as machinery, cabling and assorted fittings, were to be released it’s likely they would be classified as contaminants.

    Professor Battershill says surveys in June and on the anniversary of the Rena incident, will serve to double check what has happened to the environment.

    Copyright © 2012, Radio New Zealand


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