Rena response – a job well done

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 45, December 2013

An independent review of MNZ’s response to the Rena grounding has found it was effective in dealing with the most complex maritime incident in the country’s history – but it could have been more efficient.
Oil spill cleanup
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Volunteers clean oil off the rocks after the Rena grounding.

The effectiveness is borne out by the results of environmental research by the Rena Long Term Recovery Plan, which credits the quick clean-up of oil and debris from beaches and rocks with results that show little long-lasting effect from the grounding.

The independent review, carried out by the former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Murdoch, was released on 3 December, as were the results of environmental monitoring.

Releasing the review, Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee announced a $2 million package to help MNZ improve New Zealand’s wider maritime response capability.

“The review makes it clear that the Rena grounding was one of the most complex maritime response challenges in the world and would have tested the limits of any plan,” Minister Brownlee said. “While the response was not as efficient as it should have been in the initial stages, it improved quickly and became very effective, which is borne out in the largely positive environmental results.”

Minister Brownlee says the Rena response was about more than oil, and the key recommendation from the review involves developing a wider response capability and associated contingency planning to address both oil and non-oil issues, such as salvage, debris and other pollution.

The $2.05 million, to be provided over three years, will fund a package of work by MNZ, including:

  • developing a wider maritime incident response strategy, extending beyond oil pollution response, to include salvage and volunteer plans
  • clarifying functions and strengthening capability around salvage
  • reviewing the response management structure, including increasing skills through secondment and training
  • increasing cross-government coordination, including a national emergency management exercise to test whole-of-government readiness for maritime incidents
  • improving procurement and supply processes to ensure financially prudent expenditure during an incident response.

On an operational level, 100 GPS ‘pingers’ will be purchased to facilitate the location and salvage of containers in a maritime incident – equipment that was not immediately available for the Rena response.

“What this Government wants, along with all New Zealanders, is an assurance that if the worst ever did happen, we’d be able to marshal all available resources to respond quickly, effectively and safely,” Minister Brownlee said. “MNZ is the natural leader of this response alliance.”

MNZ Director Keith Manch said MNZ was already implementing a number of the review recommendations and the funding package would help MNZ develop a wider strategic and operational response to maritime incidents.

“I’m very proud of the professional and sustained effort by people across MNZ, but we certainly did not act alone. The success of the response was only possible due to the collaborative efforts of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, iwi, community groups, local government and other agencies such as the Department of Conservation, the Defence Force, and Massey University’s Wildlife Health Centre.”

The review states: “As is often the case, imperfections in systems, plans and structures, which are to be expected in any crisis, can be overcome by a workforce that is motivated and well managed.”

Keith said the review found that engagement with the community and iwi had initially been slow, but MNZ had adapted quickly – including involving 8,000 volunteers in the clean-up. “That approach is something new in an oil response and is being lauded internationally,” he said.

“Overall, what we want to do is ensure the good things we did following the Rena grounding are done faster in future maritime incidents.”

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