Rena Navigator and Skipper Jailed
in Courtroom 1 at Tauranga District Court last Friday, I was finally
able to see two of the men responsible for parking the MV Rena off
Papamoa Beach and all that has followed since then.
been wanting to see their faces since October 5 last year when their
container vessel hit the Astrolabe Reef.
to a spill of heavy fuel oil that killed an estimated 20,000 birds
and an unaccounted for total of fish and marine life. And ruining
the livelihoods of many sea-reliant businesses in the Bay - including
firms such as Stuart Arnold's Dolphin Seafaris.
you it has been good for security guards and their companies.
New Zealand unilaterally closed the beaches to local residents and
media - except for orchestrated events - and spent $800,000 on security
to keep locals at bay.
enough, while I was watching the skipper Mauro Arieves Balomaga
and the navigation officer Leonil Relon I didn't feel the animosity
I once had towards them.
months ago, after spending an entire day trudging along an oil-blackened
Papamoa Beach photographing the devastation caused by the incoming
black tides, I wrote on this website: "You may think I sound angry
- I'm so beyond angry because Papamoa is my beach. Every one of
its 35,000 residents thinks of it as their beach.
want to talk with the Rena's captain ...
I talk to this man I will want to ram my fist into his face several
times. I better have someone near me because otherwise I may not
has cooled my anger, as has the fact that what could have been a
complete disaster with a potential 1600-odd tonnes of oil washing
ashore was limited to just a disaster of about 350 tonnes.
as I watched Balomaga and Relon in the dock, sitting impassively
under the gaze and cameras of the media, I felt sorry for them.
And their friends and families in the courtroom.
about Christians and lions.
Rena's officers knew their careless actions had badly hurt a community
and they appeared ready for whatever came. Resigned and remorseful.
heart hardened a little at the details of their trying to cover
up the causes of the grounding, but they were men in a panic, many
others would do the same. They were under pressure to reach Tauranga
and avoid late penalties. Logic said these were only a matter of
hundreds of dollars, nothing to risk destroying a region for, but
clearly they were men with hard taskmasters.
I recalled the dead oiled albatross being lifted into a cardboard
little blue penguins washed up, smothered by Vegemite-like fuel.
seal pup being opened up at the Oiled Wildlife Response Facility
to see what killed it.
the heart grew colder still.
there was the trip to Matakana with Greenpeace to bury a diving
petrel and penguin killed by the Rena's discharge. And, even today,
the little blobs of oil that still wash up on Papamoa Beach discolouring
the high-water mark with their rainbow-like leechings.
what about the region's businesses?
heart returned to stone.
on, Judge Robert Wolff, I thought, what are you going to clobber
Crown wants a start of two years' jail, the defence - you'd expect
- would be happy to get away with that.
soon as the judge began his final comments you knew the sentence
was not going to be severe.
the phrase "seven months in prison" was mentioned it was an expected
anti-climax that numbed me.
that all those tens of thousands of birds were worth?
the damage done to the local economy?
the thousands of volunteers who worked to clean up the beaches?
the massive cost of the salvage and clean-up?
certainly wasn't a deterrent value in the officers' punishment,
maybe that will come when the owning company appears in court in
a month or so.
the meantime, we of the Bay will continue to try to recover from
the almost-visit of the Rena - and avoid oil on the beaches for
years to come.
to mention paying for the clean-up operations.
the owners will continue to push their captains and crews for faster
journeys that mean more profits but more risks as well.