Richard Moore: Chalk up a victory for the little guys

By Richard Moore

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The people of Motiti Island want the Rena gone from Astrolabe Reef.
The people of Motiti Island want the Rena gone from Astrolabe Reef.

Chalk up a victory for the little guys with the Waitangi Tribunal findings that slammed the Crown for its actions over the Rena disaster.

In particular the signing of three deeds with the owners of the Rena, Daina Shipping Company, that - to my eyes - indicated pretty clearly the Government wasn't interested in full wreck removal, orwho would be left to foot the bill of future problems with the wreck and its remaining containers.

In fact, the Government seems to be backing the owners against the tax and ratepayers of this country who, if consent to leave the wreck is given, will be the ones paying for the Rena's legacy.

To date, dealing with the Rena has cost the salvors an estimated $350 million - to get the easy bit sorted out.

The rest will cost hundreds of millions more.

But the big guns of the Government, Daina Shipping and its insurers, The Swedish Club, have been ankle-tapped before the escape line by three Maori groups on Motiti Island.

They are the little guys who have been most affected by the Rena, economically and spiritually, and they were sick of being ignored and so made the claims to the tribunal.

To get a better idea of how Motiti Islanders have been affected, I travelled out there last Friday - with former city councillor Murray Guy anda kaumatua Mata Wikeepa - and spent time talking to the locals.

About 40 adults are living on the island and 12 children.

Straight off, I will say they struck me as good genuine people who were utterly fed up with not being listened to time after time.

At a meeting on the Tamatea ki te Huatahi marae with a group of islanders, one of the strongest messages that came through was they want the Rena gone from Astrolabe Reef. Lock, stock and barrel.

They regard it as a cancer that everyone else has had a say about, but they are ignored over and over again.

"They don't hear our voices saying 'take it away'," Tavita Aiavao says. "People come here and say 'what do you want?'.

"We say 'we told you last week, last month and before that'. We are not being heard."

A kuia, Rangi Butler, adds: "Our wishes have fallen on deaf ears. We are only interested in full wreck removal."

She said they had been approached with all sorts of offers - new wharves on either side of the island - but have responded: "No thank you, we want your ship out of here."

The best way to illustrate their feelings was expressed perfectly at the meeting.

Tavita says: "It's like someone crashes their car on your front lawn and then asks your neighbours to leave it there."

Only the waters around Astrolabe Reef are more than a front yard, they are also a larder and the issue of future pollution from the wreck and its cargo hangs heavily.

Perhaps more importantly, the reef, Te Tau o Otaiti or Otaiti for short, is the spiritual gateway for the islanders between themselves and Hawaiiki.

Now it is blocked by a rusting mass of metal.

I wonder how folk would feel if some moron pranged something in front of heaven's gates, blocking them.

And there is also the worry for many about how the Rena will affect their children and grandchildren.

The other week while playing on the beach in Wairanaki Bay, children found a paua shell with oil traces in it.

It worries islanders that despite such evidence, the waters are being called pristine.

"We know it isn't pristine," Tavita says.

Another kuia, Tea Matahaere, says: "I want my mokopuna in the future to say 'my grandmother stood up and was not prepared to leave it for the future'."

A lot of heads nod when she says that.

Gloria Hirini answers my question on how the community feels now, as opposed to the first impact of the Rena on Otaiti. I ask this because many people on the mainland seem to let the wreck be out of sight and out of mind.

"The pain is still as strong," she says.

There is also pain that a couple of locals have gone against the marae over the issue.

So who has let them down the most? I ask.

"The Government," instantly comes back the reply.

"The Government and its agencies - local government, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the Ministry for the Environment."

All of the bodies that should be going out of their way for these people.

On another matter, I find it unfortunate the way they are seen by some on the mainland as being greedy over the claim.

They want it known that a $366,000 payment made to them from the Rena Recovery Fund went to cover the costs of replacing equipment and facilities on the marae used beyond breaking point by the hundreds of volunteers who stayed on the island helping to clean up the Rena's mess.

That includes their generator and septic tank systems.

The islanders, most of whom are elderly, are still grateful for the marvellous work done by those volunteers.

They would like to have an independent salvage expert's opinion on the cost of fully removing the Rena.

I felt privileged to be allowed to meet the Motiti islanders on their marae and I back them 100 per cent in their battle to have that wreck removed.

Everyone in the Western Bay, who believes in fairness and right, should do so.

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer. richard@richardmoore.com

- Bay of Plenty Times

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