Wednesday, 12 October 2011


“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit” - David Suzuki

The ecological disaster in the Bay of Plenty, near the port of Tauranga, in the North Island of New Zealand has been making the news headlines for the past few days. And rightly so, as this is the greatest such disaster that the nation has ever faced. Maritime New Zealand today reported hundreds of dead oiled birds had been found, and 92 injured birds were being cared for at the National Oiled Wildlife Recovery Centre. The World Wildlife Fund has voiced concerns about the endangered New Zealand dotterel and the fairy terns. The NZ dotterel and the fairy tern are already threatened and it’s possible that if the situation worsens, the local population could be severely depleted. The full extent of the environmental disaster may not be realised for some time, and is likely to worsen over the next few weeks.

The Liberian registered ship, MV Rena, struck the Astrolabe Reef on October 5 on its way to Tauranga and oil leaks were detected soon after. Salvagers moved in the following day and began pumping oil to a bunker barge late on Sunday, but bad weather made the operation dangerous and the prevention of oil spillage almost impossible. The Rena’s remaining crew of 24 was evacuated early on Tuesday morning. The ship’s Filipino navigator appeared in Tauranga District Court today, following a similar appearance by his 44-year-old captain in the same court yesterday and both have been charged with operating a ship in a manner causing unnecessary danger to person or property. The ship’s second officer is expected to face similar charges this week.

The ship has been spilling hundreds of tonnes oil into the ocean and is now on the brink of breaking up after a large crack appeared all the way around its hull. The ship is only being held together by its internal structural components. The salvage crew that has been winched aboard during a calm in the weather is making what may be the last desperate effort to limit the environmental disaster. They will assess whether the remaining oil can be pumped into ships alongside before the Rena comes apart. At least 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil have spilled from the hull, and the ship is believed to have originally had about 1,900 tonnes of oil and diesel on board. About 88 containers have fallen off as the ship has listed increasingly in stormy ocean conditions.

Tens of kilometres of coastline are closed to the public and some beaches were severely affected, with clumps of oil washing up on the normally pristine coastline near Tauranga. More than 1000 people have so far volunteered to help shift oil off the beaches. This is hard manual work, but Maritime New Zealand are welcoming more people to register to help. In situations like this, it is important for people not to clean the beaches on their own. Such clean-up operations need to be co-ordinated to ensure they are safe, methodical and provide maximum benefit. A team of 500 clean-up personnel is out on the beaches today, concentrating on the areas that need most attention. The smell of oil from the beaches may cause discomfort for some people and Maritime New Zealand advises residents to close their windows and try and avoid areas of oil if possible.

I have been to New Zealand several times and the North Island beaches are some of the most magnificent I have seen. If you have watched the movie “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”, the beautiful paradisiacal beaches seen at the beginning of the film where the children are at Cair Paravel were shot in Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, New Zealand, which is about 100 km from Tauranga. To think that black sludge and dead marine life, black oil-covered birds and foul-smelling residue are being washed up on these beaches is horrific. I can only imagine the terrible time the locals are experiencing seeing this calamity affecting their shores.

I can understand why the lawyers of the captain of the vessel have requested his name remain secret – some of the more militant locals might decide to take the law into their own hands. Especially so as the grounding occurred on the captain’s birthday. If convicted, the captain could face a fine of up to NZ$10,000 and 12 months in prison. His next court appearance is 19 October when authorities say more charges are likely. The captain was released on bail yesterday from Tauranga district court.

It is unfortunate that a few blog posts ago I wrote a poem on the environmental destruction that is occurring worldwide and may prove to be our species undoing. It seems that elephants are indeed flying near Tauranga this week…

pollution |pəˈlo͞oSHən| noun
The presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects: The level of pollution in the air is rising.
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Latin pollutio(n-), from the verb polluere


  1. Such a little fine in the midst of incredible damage. In your opinion, are these mere accidents? Or is it rather the greed of the oil industry to overload its cargo and take such risks? So sad for us all, especially NZ: its community of people and precious wildlife. :(

  2. This is terrible Nicholas. An oil spill is a bad scenario anywhere, but when it affects a beautiful part of the world like this, it hurts even more....