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What We Didnt Know About the Rena Disaster

By MarEx 2012-01-05 08:48:28

We know the Rena grounded off the coast of Tauranga in October.  We know the cargo ship grounding spilled 400 tons of oil into an environmentally pristine ecosystem.  We know the incident on the Astrolabe Reef is New Zealand’s worst ever maritime environmental disaster.  What we didn’t know until almost 3 months later…that the ship had previous safety issues, 17 safety violations, to be exact, just 10 weeks prior to the mega oil spill.

This week, Australian inspection records brought to light from the Associated Press (obtained under the Aussie law of freedom of information) showed that Rena had 17 violations while docked at the country, including faulty cargo-securing pins, and hatch-securing cleats.  The vessel also was found with out-of-date navigation manuals, an un-used data recorder, and a tampered alarm.  The violations described in the records tell a bleak background on the ship’s unknown story prior to its grounding and subsequent spill.

Apparently, after the discoveries from Australian inspectors, the Greek-owned, Liberian-registered Rena was impounded.  Following the impound, Liberian maritime authorities intervened in the situation and told Australia that the ship was safe to sail and that all the described violations could be fixed at a later date.  Rena was released from Australia the next day. 

Ten weeks following the short-lived impounding, the cargo ship steamed onto the well-charted Astrolabe reef off of New Zealand’s coast, spilling its massive volume of oil, killing 2,000 sea birds, and soiling the untouched beaches nearby.  Rena’s damage didn’t even stop there.  Containers that fell off the ship are still washing up on remote beaches 100 miles from the site in which she sits today, posing a threat of a break up, months later.

Although the violations and Rena’s grounding can’t be conclusively linked, the records portray a hopeless image of an ailing ship amid a dangerous culture of cost-cutting under what Nick Perry of Associate Press calls a "flag-of-convenience system."  

So, who is to blame?

Is it the flag country for pressuring authorities for the Rena to be released?  The Australian maritime authorities who let the ship go under violations?  The captain and officer currently facing criminal charges in NZ for operating a ship in a “risky and dangerous” manner?  Or is it the maritime industry, as a whole, seeking to cut costs at other expenses?

Let’s hope Maritime New Zealand can uncover the answer to this question as they conduct their own investigation into the incident which is now as unpredictable as ever. --MarEx Staff