by Gareth Hughes
Last week the Rena’s captain and its navigator were both sentenced to seven months’ jail after being held responsible for our worst maritime environmental disaster however, they couldn’t be charged under the Resource Management Act because they were foreign seamen.
Now this court case has wrapped up we also need an investigation into the Government’s role before the accident, over the spill, and what needs to happen to make our waters safer.
Last week’s Budget revealed a $35 million appropriation for the Rena, with former Environment Minister Nick Smith estimating it could cost up to as much as $130 million.
The Rena has highlighted how inadequate our cost-recovery mechanisms are, and because successive Governments have sat on their hands for years, it’s the taxpayer picking up the tab.
After the Rena, the Government could have rushed to sign international conventions that would protect taxpayers from the cost of future oil spills, but the Government has been dithering. Government still has not adopted the Bunkers Convention and the 1996 Limit to Liability for Maritime Claims Protocol which would have more than doubled the liability cap for the Rena disaster from $12 million to $29 million.
The Resource Management Act likewise still has the woefully inadequate maximum $600,000 penalty and tragically this figure is being copied over to the new EEZ Bill.
We also need an independent inquiry into the speed of the Government response to the Rena grounding, maritime regulations, and the capacity of our maritime services to respond to accidents, yet nearly 8 months after the Rena spill, the Government still hasn’t announced a Royal Commission.
I’m urging the Government to do more to protect New Zealand from the economic and environmental cost of future oil spills.