Thursday 13 October 2011

Nautical disaster

Homepaddock has the latest updates on the Rena, along with a not unreasonable explanation from Jackie Blue on the appropriateness of the government's response. I'd like to hear an engineer's view on whether the oil could have been extracted more expeditiously. But the explanation on the lack of booms seems plausible - when weather makes the water choppy, they're useless. They also were reckoned one of the least useful cleanup methods in the BP Gulf mess.

More important is that policy ensures that the clean-up costs fall on the right parties. Maritime New Zealand's Oil Response document (HT: Anon) says clean-up costs fall on the spiller:

Wherever possible the full, reasonable cost of any spill response and clean-up operation will be sought from the spiller.  All efforts will be made at both the regional and national levels to ensure that costs are recovered.  The Maritime Transport Act provides the statutory mechanisms for all reasonable response costs to be recovered from spillers by the regional councils or Maritime New Zealand.

For non-tanker vessels greater than 400GRT, New Zealand law requires evidence of insurance sufficient to meet owners' potential liability for pollution damage and response costs.   

The Rena weighed in at only 300 tonnes, so wouldn't have had to have carried as much insurance.  [The Rena met the 400GRT standard, see Duncan's comment below.] Reports vary on how much coverage she did have: the prior link says $14 million, but this one says up to a billion for clean-up. If the latter one's true, the clean-up ought to be covered quite nicely.

It's been a bit surprising that Key didn't jump out in front on this one as Parker did during the Christchurch earthquake. A few early beach speeches on how he was going to make sure those responsible for the mess would be liable for any clean-up could have diffused some of the stick he's taken. But he's perhaps gun-shy after overpromising on Pike River. iPredict still says National will win (93% chance of a National PM) but with a reduced vote share (47.5%). Meanwhile, the Greens are up to 11% of the popular vote.

And in case Stephen Franks is reading, the title's there not because I think Rena a disaster in absolute terms, which it isn't, but rather because it's a disaster for our chances of having reasonable oil exploration where both the upside and downside risks are borne by the drillers. If the public perception of this one is socialized losses, it's harder to make the case that oil drilling would be different. But most importantly, it's a great excuse to put up one of my favourite Tragically Hip songs. Will the Hip ever tour New Zealand? We live in hope.


  1. Hi Eric,

    I think that the main concerns about payment refers to the complex system of ownership and responsibility in the case of merchant ships. The issue then gets depressing when you hear the Maritime union rep speaking.

  2. The 400 GRT in the Maritime response plan appears to refer to the total internal volume of the vessel. Whilst the 300 ton in the TV3 article refers to the amount of fuel oil that had spilled from the Rena at that point.

    According to Lloyds the Rena is around 47000 DWT. There is apparently no easy way to convert GRT (internal volume) to DWT (maximum weight carried), but I think I can safely say that the Rena is bigger than 400GRT.