Fears over notorious ship

By John Cousins

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A container ship banned from Australian ports for three months and due to berth in Tauranga today has reignited fears about the vulnerability of the Bay to another disaster such as the Rena.

The ban follows the Vega Auriga being detained three times in Australian ports since July last year, after being declared "unseaworthy and substandard".

And although the international law of the sea meant Maritime New Zealand could not stop the ship entering the Port of Tauranga, people associated closely with the Rena disaster believe more should be done to reduce the risks posed by such ships.

Buddy Mikaere, spokesman for Motiti Island hapu, said the arrival of Vega Auriga underlined the weakness of New Zealand's maritime laws that vessels like it could just turn up and nothing much could be done.

"The law needs more steel, so we can tell them: 'no we don't want you here'. Sitting there in the background of all this is the Rena".

Australia Maritime Safety Authority manager Allan Schwartz said the ban imposed on Wednesday was due to repeated breaches of seafarer welfare and ship maintenance.

He cited wage payment issues, inadequate living and working conditions and inadequate maintenance, resulting in the ship being detained because it was unseaworthy and substandard.

Maritime New Zealand inspectors will be waiting to board Vega Auriga, when it berths in Tauranga today at 7pm.

Spokeswoman Sophie Hazelhurst said New Zealand's inspection regime was the same as Australia's and they had the same tools if problems were found.

"Rest assured, we will be doing a very thorough inspection."

Responding to Mr Mikaere, she said Maritime New Zealand could not impose conditions on a ship before they had even inspected it.

Greens spokesman Ian McLean conceded Maritime New Zealand was in a difficult legal position, even though it sounded like the cart was being put behind the horse. "The ship has to come here before they can say 'you can't come here'. If Australia did not like it, the chances are pretty good that we won't either."

He said the bigger picture to emerge from the Rena was the need to restructure maritime laws but nothing had changed to reduce the probability of an accident.

Dr McLean said when ships such as the Vega Auriga arrived in New Zealand it should be into a highly regulated environment designed to keep ships safer.

A summary of the "deficiencies" listed on an international shipping website showed that nine new faults were discovered when Vega Auriga berthed in Tauranga on June 18 this year.

However, the ship's fate on Australia's eastern seaboard was sealed when 21 new problems were found after it berthed in Sydney on August 21.

It was detained for two days until the three serious deficiencies had been fixed. By the time it berthed in Brisbane on August 25, all but five of the remaining 19 problems had been fixed, and it then sailed to New Zealand.

One problem that caused the ship to be detained in Sydney was a delay in paying the crew.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the Rena experience had shown that New Zealand needed to be more conscious about the quality of the vessels and crew conditions. It was about the age and quality of the vessels, and the treatment and capability of the crew.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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