RENA Update from Maritime NZ (164)
Wednesday, 16 November 2011 11:00 a.m.
Regional authorities throughout New Zealand are learning valuable lessons from the response to the grounding of the container ship Rena off the Bay of Plenty coast.
Regional council oil spill response team members throughout the country have been supporting the Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) national response in Tauranga. This is in addition to significant support from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
Regions are looking to use that experience to ensure their areas are well prepared for events.
National On Scene Commander Mick Courtnell said the response from regional councils throughout the country, international authorities and the wider Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) team has been overwhelming, making it difficult to personally thank all of those involved.
"I come from Auckland Council and a lot of our staff have been on the scene throughout the response, but we've also had people from Northland right down to Southland helping out.
"The Marine Pollution Response Service (MPRS) is part of MNZ and takes responsibility for training all regional councils and the National Response Team (NRT). The NRT has been fantastic and the response is ongoing. We've also had a great response from regional council staff not on the NRT as well as representatives from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
"All in all, the response has been huge and we'd like to say a collective thank you to everyone involved," said Mr Courtnell.
Southland's Regional On Scene Commander, Dallas Bradley, who has 15 years' experience in oil spill response, only recently started work in the MNZ Incident Command Centre in Tauranga as part of its planning team.
However, around 12 of his colleagues from Southland's Marine Oil Pollution Response team, including six staff from the regional council, have worked on the Rena response since it began on October 5, in the wildlife facility, communications and other areas.
Mr Bradley said New Zealand's national system of marine pollution response relied on regional councils and other organisations.
"Regional councils have formal partnerships and agreements in place with Maritime New Zealand. The response system relies on us helping out our fellow regional councils and MNZ. We are funded and trained by MNZ to be part of any national marine oil spill response event like Rena."
Mr Bradley said there had been a lot of interest in the Rena incident in Southland. "The Rena was at Bluff before it came up here and it had cargo from Southland aboard."
He said while Southland has had two major national incidents of its own in recent years, the Rena event was New Zealand's by far biggest in terms of marine environmental oil pollution.
"There are bound to be debriefs on debriefs about this event and we'll be applying in our region the lessons learnt," said Mr Bradley.
Northland's Regional On Scene Commander, Peter Wiessing, agreed, saying that he wanted to take away the lessons "so we can be in a better state of preparedness".
Northland Regional Council has also had a number of people assisting in the oil spill response, working in operations, planning, the volunteer programme, media and community relations, and in the wildlife recovery facility.
"Oil spills are a very real threat up in Northland - we know it
could happen there at any time. And we would get help from around
the country too," he said.
Mr Wiessing said Northland faced the same risks as the Bay of Plenty.
"We have the same sort of beaches, the same rocky shorelines, the same values. We're all in this together. We all have an affinity for the beach. We are just as shocked at what could happen to our precious places."
Bay of Plenty's Regional On Scene Commander Gregory Meikle has been working closely with MNZ since Rena grounded. He said he had been impressed with the level of support from other regional councils.
"This is my backyard so I'm passionate about this work, but I've seen no less commitment from others from around the country and from our own Bay of Plenty Regional Council staff," Mr Meikle said.
More than a third of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's staff have been involved as part of the response.
He said that the first three days were the most hectic for him.
"I was the local Regional On Scene Commander when it was declared a national event. It was my job to help the National On Scene Commander set up the incident command centre."
Mr Meikle immediately became the logistics manager for the response and the 'go to trouble-shooter' because of his local knowledge and responsibilities. He said the Rena incident had been a big learning experience for New Zealand's regional councils.
And his biggest lesson from the event so far?
"Good things take time. I've seen the benefit of stepping back and taking stock, looking at the options and then deciding the most appropriate response."
The Director of MNZ, Catherine Taylor, said the regional councils formed the backbone of New Zealand's oil spill response system.
Led by the team at MNZ's Marine Pollution Response Service, the regional council oil spill responders work year round to ensure New Zealand was ready to respond to an event like the Rena grounding.
"They are our key partners in oil spill response. The support we have received from the regional councils has been outstanding.
"As organisations, regional councils have demonstrated their commitment to their role in our oil spill response system.
"As individuals, their staff have demonstrated professionalism, dedication and a passion for defending our environment. We are grateful and hugely appreciative of the support we have received from each and every one of them."