Unionized seafarers are being blamed unfairly for the Rena disaster
October 19, 2011 - LM Editorial
The Maritime Union of New Zealand is rightly contending that the responsibility for the Rena disaster lies with Government and authorities as much as with individual crew members.
Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the arrest today of the master of the Rena on serious charges should not deflect attention away from the greater responsibility for the disaster.
He says New Zealand Government and authorities have created a situation where substandard flag of convenience shipping has been encouraged and enabled.
“1990s legislation from the then National Government created the so-called ‘open coast’ policy and this has meant that unacceptable practices have become the norm in New Zealand waters – it’s a case of out of sight and out of mind.”
Fleetwood says a Maritime New Zealand “inspection” of the Rena in Bluff on 28 September 2011 apparently consisted of the inspector asking the Master whether previous problems had been fixed.
“This is the same Master that the authorities are now trying to pin the blame on a couple of weeks later after the disaster.”
“But at the time of the inspection they obviously were prepared to take the Master at his word that everything was hunky dory on his ship, despite the fact it had been hauled up in China and Australia for multiple problems.”
Fleetwood says if this is the standard approach of Maritime New Zealand to dealing with obviously problematic vessels, the only surprise in the grounding of the Rena is that it hadn’t happened earlier.
He says the Union is very concerned about the welfare of crew members and wanted access to them to provide independent support.
“Can you imagine the stress of these seafarers, many with dependent families, who have spent nearly a week onboard a stricken vessel in mortal fear of their lives, and some only being taken off by helicopter after a Mayday call when the ship appeared to be in imminent catastrophe.”
He says it is now becoming a regular theme that systemic policy and regulation failures are resulting in serious harm to workers, the community and the environment.
“It is about time that the elected leaders started copping it when things go wrong rather than putting a smother over it and trying to shift the blame.”
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