By Gareth Hughes
A year ago New Zealand suffered its worst ever maritime environmental disaster.
The images in the media of people picking up the bodies of dead birds from beaches or trying to save those that survived were heart-breaking.
Of the estimated 20,000 birds killed by the spill, 2,410 bodies were collected.
The thousands of New Zealanders that got off their sofas and went to help demonstrated how deeply we care about our marine environment.
A pity a whole year on the National Government hasn’t shown the same passion.
The Rena was just one of thousands of vessels that sail through our waters carrying hazardous material and tonnes of fuel and diesel that could threaten wildlife and fishing.
The National Government has finally announced an investigation into the disaster.
That’s too little, too late.
It needs to set higher standards for coastal shipping by using local ships and crews that know New Zealand waters, it should require polluters to pay for more of the clean-up cost and increase the Oil Pollution Levy on industry to make up the difference. Maritime New Zealand’s oil spill response capability and infrastructure also needs to be built up.
And that’s just for starters.
The Government’s been asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting New Zealand’s waters, and not even the nightmare of the Rena has woken it up to the very real threat of a future oil spill.
While failing to do anything substantial to make container ship spills like the Rena less likely, the National Government is actively increasing the risk to our marine environment by encouraging oil companies to conduct deep sea oil drilling in our waters.
If there is a leak from a deep sea oil rig there is no easy way to stop it. The consequence for New Zealand’s environment, economy and reputation would be catastrophic.
Gareth Hughes is a Green Party MP