John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Rena book offers unique perspective of Bay of Plenty maritime disaster

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Captain Kevin Judkins and his book offering an eye witness view of the Rena salvage. Also pictured is Grumpy's Gallery owner Bob Ricketts.  Picture/George Novak
Captain Kevin Judkins and his book offering an eye witness view of the Rena salvage. Also pictured is Grumpy's Gallery owner Bob Ricketts. Picture/George Novak

A book offering a unique perspective on New Zealand's worst environmental shipping disaster will be launched at Mount Maunganui on the fifth anniversary of the Rena grounding.

'120 Days at Astrolabe' offers an up-close and personal account of the events witnessed by Captain Kevin Judkins on board the anchor handling supply tug GO Canopus.

His self-published book began life as a personal log emailed to his daughter Rochelle to let family know about the happenings and his thoughts about the salvage effort at Astrolabe Reef - the reef the Rena slammed into on October 5, 2011.

The launch at Old Grumpy's Gallery on October 5 will be the culmination of a year's work by the Northland-based sea captain who realised he was in a unique position to record the daily dramas in and around the doomed container ship.

Mr Judkins' book, taken from transcripts of his personal log, offered a unique view of the disaster, starting 17 days after Rena grounded and continuing for another 120 days.

He was motivated by feelings of frustration about the lack of details being communicated by officials in charge of the salvage.

The "almost Stalinist" clampdown on information began when his daily emails found their way into the public domain, culminating in a headline in the New Zealand Herald 'Rena blogger shut down'.

Mr Judkins said a confidentiality clause was added to contracts that even extended to people not being allowed to email details of their Rena experiences to friends and family for fear it would leak out.

"It was a total clampdown, almost Stalinist."

The official version of the salvage was like reading the statistical facts of a rugby game without understanding how the game was played, he said.

"People were not getting the full picture, there was no flesh on the story. Bay of Plenty people have a desire to know what happened - they are owed a decent account."

Mr Judkins briefly reflected on his ''bollocking'' and decided to carry on keeping a personal log, emailing it on a strictly confidential basis to his daughter. ''It was history in the making.''

The resulting 237-page A4-size book features colour photos on nearly every page, selected from the 20,000 photos he took while stationed at the reef. The text retained the shape of his daily diary which Mr Judkins said was 98 per cent true to the original, minus a few word changes and swear words.

''It has taken a year to put together.''

The fact that the grounding was passing into history was reflected by the Rena's owner and insurer both giving their blessing to the book, without exercising any power of veto.

He originally intended the book would have a very limited print run for family and friends to ensure the knowledge he gained at Astrolabe Reef was not lost. Mr Judkins then thought it would appeal to a wider audience, so decided print enough copies to sell and hope that he would recoup his costs.

''Lots of people did a magnificent job out there and no one knows what they did. This is maritime history that no one was recording.''

Old Grumpy's owner Bob Ricketts said the copy of the book on his counter had generated an incredible amount of interest. Neighbouring furniture gallery owner Barry Muir said he would be giving a free copy of the book to anyone who bought a Lazy Boy within about 10 days of the book launch on October 5.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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