Crown's Rena response breached treaty

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 18:14 18/07/2014

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The Crown breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in its response to the grounding of the MV Rena on Astrolabe Reef, the Waitangi Tribunal has found.

It called on the Government to make all of its expert reports on the subject available to Maori immediately.

A three-day inquest was held under urgency in Tauranga this month and in its interim report released today, the tribunal found the Crown's consultation process failed to fulfil the Crown's duty to actively protect Maori and their taonga.

The breach stemmed from a financial settlement between the Crown and owners of the Rena, Daina Shipping Company.

The company was to pay $27.6 million to settle the claims of the Crown and other public bodies, including Maritime New Zealand and the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

Daina would pay another $10.4m for "public purposes" if the Crown supported a resource consent application by the owners to leave the wreck on the reef.

The total cleanup was estimated to cost about $47m, leaving a shortfall of about $20m based on the negotiated settlement.

Motiti Island hapu spokesman Buddy Mikaere presented the hapu's case to the tribunal. He had called for the release of confidential documents between the Crown and owners of the MV Rena, but said he was hamstrung by the Crown.

Three deeds of settlement with the Rena owners were rubberstamped in October 2012, but Crown consultation with Bay of Plenty Maori to seek their views on the resource consent application started only in November 2013.

The Resource Management Act requires public bodies to take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi when they make decisions.

Bay of Plenty iwi said they had been left completely out of the loop and the Crown failed in its obligation to consult Maori.

Counsel for Motiti Island group Ngai te Hapu Inc Thomas Bennion said the agreement was an "insipid test" for others to follow.

Mataatua District Maori Council chairman Maanu Paul said the hulk of the vessel was a cancer that needed to be removed.

Cabinet will meet on July 28 to decide the Government response to the resource consent application which is now before the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. Submissions will close on August 8.

The tight time frame had led the tribunal to narrow its focus to the three deeds agreed to by the Crown and Rena's owners.

It said the reef was a taonga and the Crown had breached the Treaty principles of good faith and partnership.

The tribunal recommended the Crown take into account the adverse effects of the Rena when making a submission on the resource consent application, the effects on Maori use of the reef, environmental considerations. It should assist Maori to make their own submissions.

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It recommended the Crown urge the resource consent decision-makers to recognise the reef as a taonga, which would elevate its protection status to that of national importance.

Two separate claims were brought by the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust, the Mataatua District Maori Council and Ngai Te Hapu Incorporated Society, with several Maori trusts and hapu and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council as interested parties.

The tribunal was headed by Judge Sarah Reeves, with Professor Sir Tamati Reedy, Sir Doug Kidd and Ronald Crosby on the inquiry panel.

BACKGROUND

The MV Rena container ship ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef (Te Tau o Taiti) while sailing from Napier to Tauranga on

October 5, 2011. It spilledmore than 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, plus containers, which washed up along the Bay of Plenty coastline.

It marked the beginning of the country's worst maritime environmental disaster.

Beaches from Mt Maunganui to Maketu Pt, including the Maketu Estuary, were closed to the public, and cleanup volunteers were warned the effects of contact with the spilled oil could include vomiting, nausea and rashes.

Residents were urged to close their windows to limit fumes.

Rena owners Daina Shipping Company apologised to the people of Tauranga, saying they were deeply sorry for the "disastrous event".

The ship had been chartered by the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

Maritime New Zealand charged the owners of the Rena in relation to the discharge of harmful substances from a ship in the coastal marine area.

Daina pleaded guilty and the court imposed a $300,000 fine - the largest ever handed down in New Zealand for this type of offence. The maximum penalty available was a $600,000 fine.

The ship's captain and navigation officer were also charged in the Tauranga District Court with offences including operating a ship in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk to people or property.

They were both sentenced to seven months' jail.

- Waikato Times

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