Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Shipwreck review gets a roasting

Ex-marine safety head says former diplomat is wrong appointment for the task

Photo / Alan Gibson
Photo / Alan Gibson

The first director of Maritime New Zealand is "perplexed and disappointed" at the review his former agency has announced into its response to the grounding of the Rena a year ago.

Russell Kilvington was the head of the Maritime Safety Authority when it became Maritime New Zealand in 2005 and was also in charge at the time of the most recent large-scale grounding before the Rena - the Jody F Millennium incident at Gisborne in 2002.

He yesterday criticised the scope of the six-month review Maritime NZ confirmed on Thursday, which would largely focus on the agency's response to the Rena's disastrous grounding off the Tauranga coast on October 5 last year.

Mr Kilvington described the review's terms of reference as "narrow" and essentially related to Maritime NZ's operational response.

He also criticised the appointment of former diplomat Simon Murdoch to lead the review.

"This is certainly not the major all-embracing review that I recall many government ministers and not just opposition parties were calling for at the time of the accident," he told the Weekend Herald. "But that being the case, the kind of person you would then expect to head up the review would be someone with a good knowledge of maritime operations, maritime law and oil spill response.

"Appointing a career diplomat seems a complete mismatch."

Opposition parties have also criticised the appointment over Mr Murdoch's former role as the acting boss of the Government Communications Security Bureau, now facing questions over its illegal spying on internet billionaire Kim Dotcom.

"My real concern is that failure to learn all the lessons of the Rena will simply mean that New Zealand will wait in blissful ignorance for the next similar catastrophe," Mr Kilvington said.

Green MP Gareth Hughes saw Mr Kilvington as "a voice that should be listened to".

"He knows what he's talking about. From his point of view and ours, this is just another operational review and not the inquiry that was promised by the Prime Minister and other ministers."

Mr Hughes still thought there was an opportunity for the Government to "go back to the drawing board" and undertake a wider-ranging review.

This could address better safeguards for taxpayers, issues over flag of convenience ships, compulsory shipping lanes, tougher penalties for polluters and lifting minimum levels of compulsory insurance for existing oil rigs.

Labour's environment spokesman, Grant Robertson, is also still pushing for a larger review.

"This is evidence from someone who has been at the highest level of maritime safety in New Zealand that this review is simply not good enough in terms of what New Zealand needs to learn, and to get to the bottom of what happened."

Maritime NZ director Keith Manch yesterday defended the appointment of Mr Murdoch as one of New Zealand's most experienced senior public servants. He said he was happy with scope of the review.

"We have scoped our review as we should, as an operational response agency to learn lessons about the operational response. If the Government wants to do another form of inquiry, that's a matter for the Government."

Mr Manch said many of the issues Mr Hughes raised were addressed in ongoing policy development and within the agency's normal work.

"Other people have called for a commission of inquiry, but from my perspective ... I'm obliged to think it would be silly not to have a good solid review of ourselves and the agencies we work with, and have an independent element to it. It's not like we thought about doing a bigger one and scaled it down."

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said he still expected the Government to announce a new broader inquiry, as Prime Minister John Key signalled to him shortly after the grounding.

What's in the review
* Oil spill response
* Salvage oversight
* Maritime incident response team actions
* Investigation of the incident.

And what's not
* Cause of the accident
* Existing regulatory framework
* Wider government response
* Recovery component of the response

- NZ Herald

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