On Day 23 of the Rena Disaster, Skipper Key sailed into Tauranga last week to view the ship on the rocks. There were no “Mission Accomplished” banners though, because with hundreds of tonnes of oil and 1300 containers, some with poisonous chemicals, still on board there is still a great risk to the livelihoods of the people of the Bay of Plenty, birds and marine life in and around this reef that was once teaming with life.
John Key was asked about the total cost of the clean-up and gave one of his usual less than confident answers: “It’s a big number. $70 million, $80 million or $100 million maybe”. Of course, as usual, he failed provide was an answer to the hard question: Who is going to pay for the costs of this disaster?
John Key and Steven Joyce were adamant in the early days that the owners were liable for all costs but that all changed when reality caught up to the spin. That hasn’t stopped Mr Joyce from spinning some more. Yesterday he reminded us that the owner’s insurers have said they will meet their liability. But that is no assurance at all, because the owner’s liability is limited by law and as a result the taxpayer will have to pick up the a big chunk of the tab.
This was not just an accident. It looks as if the grounding was an act of negligence and that fault was involved. Someone other than the taxpayer should be liable for the consequences.
It seems most likely that the community would have benefitted significantly if the government had signed up to the Bunker Oil Convention in 2009 when Australia and Canada did.
The penalties available under the Maritime Transport Act are not enough to meet the cost of the clean-up and losses to businesses. Skipper Key needs to provide answers to questions being raised by residents of the Bay of Plenty coast.
- What is the liability of the ship’s owner?
- Is the operator of the ship a difference legal entity to the ship owner, and if so what, consequences flow from that?
- Why does Mr Joyce appear to deflect responsibility onto the charter Company?
- Is it because his inaction on the Bunker Oil Convention has let the ship owner off the hook?
- What is the liability of the charter company?
- Who are they liable to and are they only liable to the government for the clean-up or are they also liable to local businesses who have sustained losses as a result of the grounding?
- Can the shipping company escape their responsibilities because the ship is registered in Liberia?
- Would the result be different if the government had legislated to adopt the protocol to the International Convention on the Limitation of Civil Liability for Marine Claims?
- Would businesses and the taxpayer suffering economic loss as a result of the oil spill have a simpler and more certain remedy available if the government had legislated to adopt the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage?