The Rena. A Neo-Liberal failure.
Nearly three weeks ago now a container vessel grounded on Astrolabe reef near Tauranga, New Zealand.
Shipping accidents like the Rena are entirely at the door of Neo-Liberal economics.
The foreseeable results of Globalisation, de-regulation, the endless search for the cheapest, the socialisation of risks and the privatisation of benefits..
Tired, overstressed, low paid crews, cheaply built and maintained ships, inadequate or ignored regulation and excessive workloads are the norm at sea.
Flags of convenience exist entirely so that shipping companies, and shippers, can reduce the costs: of corporate and income taxes, safety standards, operating standards, crew conditions and wages and build standards of shipping.
They allow a competitive race to the bottom to see who can become the cheapest.
There is no reason whatsoever to use a flag of convenience if you intend to operate a vessel to a high standard. There would not be any cost savings.
The constant struggle to maintain cheaply built ships, designed and built for a 15 year life. Is bad enough when they are new. 5 or 10 years beyound their design life , keeping them going is a 24 hour a day job.
Low wages, mean that high quality well trained crew find other work ashore or in higher paid work like the oil industry.
Masters and Chief engineers are often the only properly trained and skilled members of the crew, with the numbers made up of cheap labour with dodgy qualifications.
It is common for crew to be on board working shifts with less tha 8 hours off a day for more than 9 months.
Training standards are variable, with a noticeable drop in the standard of training, even from first world countries. At the same time crew numbers have been dropped so there are not the personnel available to babysit and train.
Seafarers are expected to rest in ships with levels of noise and vibration that would have been totally unacceptable thirty years ago. Ashore in NZ it is illegal to get people to work, let alone sleep, in those conditions
In New Zealand, Masters who refuse to sail because of broken equipment or rough weather and crew members who refuse to falsify rest hour, maintenance, safety and leave records are protected by our employment laws.
A sacking for those reasons, in New Zealand, would be a legitimate case for unjustified dismissal.
On FOC ships they are sacked or their contracts are simply not renewed.
The worst of it, since the 1980’s and Governments cave in to the farming lobby on Cabotage, in NZ, even local shipping companies, whatever their intentions , are also cutting standards to compete with cheap overseas shipping.
The contradictory statements and outright spin coming from Maritime New Zealand and National are excuses for delay, not reasons.
I know, that given the resources, pumps, tugs, helicopters, barges, hoses and other equipment available in Marsden point, Tauranga and Auckland, oil could have been pumping off the vessel within 24 hours of the grounding.
We know the ship had power and heating to the bunker tanks for the first few days.
It was obvious to mariners that with damage forward and the depths below the ship she would be aground for many weeks, if she could be refloated at all.
Given that, power and fuel oil heating would be lost if the ship was more damaged, bad weather was forecast within a week and the ship was only supported along half her length, making breaking up in bad weather almost certain, getting the oil off should have been top priority.
MNZ’s on scene commander has the legal powers to commandeer equipment, vessels and personnel to avoid oil pollution.
Ships piping can be adapted to pump overside to a barge within a lot less than 4 days.
Heating would have been on for at least the tanks in use. Takes less than a day to heat further tanks.
If the pipework was too damaged to use, which was highly unlikely for the after bunkers, portable pumps and generators could have been choppered to the vessel within hours.
While the oil was hot almost any pumps could have been used at rates of hundreds of ton an hour. Instead of a specialised displacement pump, required, after it had cooled.
Any barge or vessel capable of holding oil, which there were several around, could have been used to pump into, initially.
Awanuia does not take 4 days to go to Marsden point, empty, and return to Tauranga. More like 8 hours to Marsden point. About 7 to discharge and no more than 12 hours to Tauranga.
Bunker piping is available on the wharf in all three ports.
We have Mates, Masters and engineers in NZ that have years of experience on pumping fuel between ships and making things work in adverse conditions.
When we have a valve failure in a tanker we do not leave it sitting around for 5 days at 60k plus a day while we wait for an overseas expert or for negotiations with insurance companies. . We open a manhole and pump it out using a salvage pump.
If fuel pipes or anything else fails at sea we fix it.
The whole thing is an in indictment on the lack of preparedness of MNZ, helped by lack of funding and lack of experienced and qualified seafarers in the top ranks.
It has become obvious that MNZ had no idea of the personnel and equipment, already on hand, that could be used.
Strange, considering that some of the skilled personnel work for MNZ.
This episode has also exposed the lack of preparedness and equipment for a serious spill. Due to lack of funding. To keep the costs of oil pollution levies, and hence shipping costs down.
Successive Governments have been told many times the race for the cheapest shipping costs makes more of this sort of accident inevitable. They all failed in their duty to prepare for it.
Appointing chair polishing ignoramus as bosses in MNZ, allowing substandard FOC ships, many of which which would not be allowed on the EC coasts, to starving emergency response planning and equipping of funding, is at the door of all our Neo-Liberal Governments since 1984.
The ineptitude and lack of preparedness does not make me confident of their ability to monitor deep sea drilling.