Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena response adequate, poll says

Prime minister John Key speaks to Drew Shannon, a salvage co-ordinator of the Rena clean-up at the Port of Tauranga. Photo / APN
Prime minister John Key speaks to Drew Shannon, a salvage co-ordinator of the Rena clean-up at the Port of Tauranga. Photo / APN

The Government has again defended its reaction to the Rena disaster after a third of respondents to a Herald-DigiPoll survey thought the response was not good enough.

But more than half of those surveyed said the response was adequate or better.

Just over 36 per cent of respondents thought the response was unsatisfactory - a view backed by opposition parties who say the container ship's grounding on October 5 and subsequent oil spill had been politically damaging for the Government.

At the other end of the scale, 11 per cent thought the response was "very good" and 50.3 per cent thought it adequate.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government had been cautious not to let politics meddle with what he called "good technical decisions".

He cited the Australian Government's reaction to the 270-tonne oil spill from the MV Pacific Adventurer container ship off the Queensland coast in 2009.

"That also occurred quite close to an election and the politicians had agencies doing things that looked good but actually were very damaging - we've been very determined we make the right decisions for the right reason and it's encouraging to see that the public is recognising that."

With the election just weeks away, Dr Smith said it was "inevitable" the disaster would become political.

He believed the public mood had swung from initial anger to "let's fix this up as quickly as possible".

"I just think you need to be cautious with natural disasters in the white hot environment of an election campaign so that you don't have politics overriding good technical decisions - that's been the Government's response to this crisis."

But Labour Leader Phil Goff believed Dr Smith was "fobbing off" what he believed was a lack of leadership from the Government.

"The constant feedback I get from people in [the Bay of Plenty] was that this was poorly handled and there was never a sense or urgency or leadership in those first few vital days."

The disaster also damaged public confidence in Government oil exploration projects and exposed the fact it failed to sign a convention which would have safe-guarded taxpayers against a spill with a $12.1 million liability cap, Mr Goff said.

Greens MP Gareth Hughes said even right-wing political pundits were criticising the Government's response in the disaster's opening days.

"The National Party in the first 10 days did come out swinging very aggressively and attacked anyone who questioned their response ... but I think the Government's lack of urgency by not visiting sooner - especially given John Key was in the neighbourhood - was damaging."

Meanwhile, more than 1000 tonnes of oil have now been pumped from the ship as salvors begin the most dangerous part of the operation.

A little over 350 tonnes remain in the submerged starboard number 5 tank, only accessible by manholes that will be accessed through a water-tight corridor being built through the ship.

Divers helping build the passageway were forced to evacuate yesterday after high tide made it unsafe.

It was not known how long it would take salvors to empty the final tank.

Pockets of lighter oil were still leaking from the Rena but were staying within a 6km radius of the ship.

Of the 88 containers lost at the same time, 58 remained unaccounted for and vessel skippers were urged to take "extreme caution" in Bay of Plenty waters.

- NZ Herald

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