'Racist' NZers blaming Rena disaster on Filipino crew

By Hayley Hannan, Hayden Donnell

A clean-up worker stretches a gooey handful of oil he has removed from the rocks at the base of Mt Maunganui. Photo / Alan Gibson
A clean-up worker stretches a gooey handful of oil he has removed from the rocks at the base of Mt Maunganui. Photo / Alan Gibson

A Philippines-based seafarers association has accused "racist and extreme right" New Zealanders of blaming the Rena disaster on the racial origin of the vessel's Filipino crew.

In a statement, the International Seafarers Action Center (ISAC) said the ship grounding on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga was an accident waiting to happen.

It defended the Rena's Filipino crew and blamed international shipping rules for the environmental disaster unfolding across the Bay of Plenty.

The "trauma, fear and physical sufferings" of the vessel's mostly Filipino crew, who stayed on board the grounded ship for six days, highlighted the the human damage of the incident, it said.

"This is further worsened by some racist and extreme right elements in New Zealand who blame the national origin of the Filipino crew for the incident, in order to launch a racist attack on the some 20,000 Filipino migrants who are now in New Zealand."

ISAC said the Rena was a substandard and old vessel that had been detained after half its inspections over the last 36 months.

It said international rules allowed the Rena to fly a Flag of Convenience for Liberia, though its owners Costamare Inc are based in Greece.

The flag of convenience system had been used by "unscrupulous" owners to allow substandard ships to sail, it said.

"It is not surprising then, that this vessel would figure, sooner or later, in an accident of this sort.

"Many incidents involving substandard vessels flying Flags of Convenience tragically led not only to massive oil spills but to the loss of human lives. This is regardless of the color of the skin, or of the racial origins of the officers and men crewing these vessels."

The statement said the ISAC stands in solidarity with New Zealanders who were cleaning up oil on Bay of Plenty beaches.

Oil pumping continues

A new team of salvage workers will be winched onto the stricken ship Rena today to continue pumping oil off it.

The container ship ran aground on the Astrolabe reef off Tauranga on October 5, spilling containers and more than 300 tonnes of oil into the ocean.

Salvors worked on the wreck overnight, pumping about 60 tonnes of oil from the vessel, Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said.

"The overnight crew will be replaced this morning and pumping will continue today. The salvage crew also intends to do sounding tests on the tanks which will provide us with a more precise figure of how much oil remains.''

Pumping resumed yesterday after a replacement pump was installed when a booster pump blew a circuit.

A total of 150 tonnes has been pumped from the wreck.

MetService has issued a gale warning for the Bay of Plenty region, forecasting winds on Friday could cause swell of 2.5m.

Mr Anderson said salvors would make the most of good conditions this morning.

"We will continue to monitor the weather to ensure the salvage operation is safe. However, we will take advantage of the good weather while we can.''

He said fine weather was forecast for the rest of the weekend.

Salvage workers will soon begin searching for almost 30 containers still missing after slipping off the side of the ship.

Of the 88 containers that fell off, 29 are missing and only five have been recovered.

Mr Anderson said efforts to recover the containers carrying varied goods will begin soon.

"One of the tasks that will be undertaken is a side scanning survey of the region to identify the location of those lost containers and then go through a recovery process,'' Newstalk ZB reported.

He said nine have been spotted floating Motiti Island, and seven close to White Island. The locations of others were marked with a buoy.

The Navy has previously helped manouevre stray floating containers into a pen off the coast of Mt Maunganui.

A specialist Navy team is patrolling for floating and sunken containers in the shipping channel.

National On Scene Commander Alex van Wijngaarden says shoreline clean-up work will continue today.

Volunteer networks would help iwi at Maketu and Waihau Bay, and assist clean-ups at Mt Maunganui and Papamoa.

"We are seeing a lot of debris from the containers washing up in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

"We have deployed a significant amount of equipment, along with shoreline clean-up specialists to lead volunteers there. As always, we ask members of the public to work with the response teams to ensure a methodical and safe clean-up.''

Captain van Wijngaarden said the team would continue to clean Mt Maunganui and Papamoa because small amounts of oil were continuing to wash up along the beach.

"We're aware that some oil is mobilising on the surf line from the sand around Mt Maunganui and Papamoa. Because of this, we will keep the beaches closed in the interest of public safety.''

The main Mt Maunganui Beach will remain open for public access, but not for swimming.

Shoreline clean-up assessment teams have confirmed earlier reports of oiling at Whakatane Spit and Ohope Beach are incorrect.

The Wildlife Response Unit has established a staging unit in Te Kaha with capacity to take in 100 animals.

- APNZ

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