Editorial: Rena wreck must be cleared

Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014

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OPINION: The wreck of the Rena cannot be left on Astrolabe Reef. The ship rammed the reef because of the negligence or incompetence of its crew.

Two men, including the captain, went to jail as a result. The spillage of oil and debris from the wreck caused a dreadful and lasting mess, and hundreds of birds died. Why on earth would New Zealand allow the wreck to be left there?

The owners and insurers say they have spent hundreds of millions removing part of the wreck and would have to spend hundreds of millions more to get rid of it all. They claim that the removal could be dangerous. They also claim that shifting the wreck from the underwater cliff where it is wedged might require the use of dynamite, further endangering the environment. And supporters of the insurers claim that the wreck is now harmless.

Not one of these arguments is convincing. The cost of removing the wreck is enormous, although the insurers' exact sums must be treated with scepticism. But that is not the point. As Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby asked last year: "Is the cost of removing it our problem? I would say no - it's their problem. We didn't ask for it to be grounded." This is the heart of the issue. They made the mess. They must clean it up.

If the insurers have a knock-down argument for leaving the wreck, they now have their chance to put it before the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and ultimately the Environment Court. Those bodies should cast a very cold eye on the clearly self-serving arguments of commercial organisations. And against them must be balanced the risk of further contamination by the wreck, which still contains oil and containers that could be freed by the fierce tides that tear across the reef.

The reef is, after all, a taonga for both Pakeha and Maori. It was once pristine and an excellent hapuka fishery. Now it has been violated by the ship, whose rusting hulk lies across it. It is strange, given this, that some New Zealanders seem to accept the argument that the wreck should be left as a diving attraction. There is already an excellent dive site close by at Motiti Island, where the Taioma was deliberately sunk. It is a safe diving spot, unlike the treacherous waters of the Astrolabe.

Prime Minister John Key says it is not his or the Government's call whether the wreck stays or goes. Instead, he said last month, it should be left to the planning authorities. Why is it not the Government's responsibility? This was a maritime disaster and the treatment of it will create an important precedent. It is not a regional problem, it is a national problem.

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That means it is the Government's problem. For Taranaki, the issue is an important one, given how close we came to facing a Rena of our own earlier this year. The incident with the Lake Triview running aground has been described as having the potential to be Rena-like. And the Waiwhakaiho Reef it hit is only about 1 kilometre offshore.

Had it ended up stranded as the Rena was, how would the people of Taranaki feel if the proposal was to just leave it there, for viewing while they strolled the coastal walkway?

The deal the Government reached with the Rena's owners also casts some doubt on its bona fides, because it will receive a $10 million payment if a resource consent is given to abandon the wreck. This is an obvious incentive for the Government to support the owners and insurers. The Government needs to clear away the doubts by insisting that the wreck be cleared away. That is clearly in New Zealand's interests, and the Government has dodged the issue for too long.

- Taranaki Daily News

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