Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rena: Why Were We Not Ready?

You’ve gotta wonder just what’s been going on.
First, we have a large container ship, the Rena, driven straight onto the well-charted Astrolabe Reef, about 12 nautical miles off the Tauranga coast a week ago.
Then, despite three days of gorgeous calm conditions, nothing seemed to be done regarding the grounding and oil leaks – although we heard plans were underway, mobilisation had begun etc.
Next, oil reaches pristine Bay of Plenty beaches because chemical dispersants didn’t seem to work (and in many cases, those dispersants do more harm than good anyway). Yet TV3 interviewed a man with an oil-absorbency product proven globally, who was told by the government and Maritime NZ to "come back and see us after this is over"!
Now the storm hitting the area has tilted Rena – initially leaning to port – to nearly 20 degrees to starboard. She has lost dozens of her containers, and is showing evidence of deformities in her hull structure.
This storm is both a pro and a con. The bad news: it hampers the clean-up and access to the vessel. The good news: it helps the oil disperse naturally. Microbe activity will break down the oil in about six weeks in the current temperatures.
If Rena does break up on the reef, we won’t see an environmental disaster of the size and impact of the Exxon Valdez or the more recent Gulf of Mexico disaster: this is simply not on the same scale. However it’s equally as distressing to those watching it happen on their own back doorstep…and it should never have happened (two investigations underway will eventually sort out why)!
Meantime we must ask why recovery efforts have taken so long, and are in seemingly such disarray, when surely Maritime NZ had a plan and equipment ready-to-roll for just such an event?
It seems once again our disaster preparedness "plan" is to think about what to do…after an event has actually happened!
Update: Rena's hull has now ruptured - it's looking highly unlikely she'll be able to be refloated!

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