New Zealand ship masters and officers are not being given a fair chance to work on the Rena salvage job, a union representative says.

NZ Merchant Service Guild president Captain Lew Henderson said foreign officers have been employed to operate the tug that will manoeuvre a new salvage barge at the expense of New Zealand officers.

Owned by Resolve Salvage and Fire, the tug and barge arrived in Tauranga from Singapore last week.

The barge, which is fitted with an on-board crane, will be used to lift large pieces of steel from out of the ocean, while the tug will move the barge into place and tow it back to port when necessary.


Capt Henderson said there were plenty of New Zealand officers sufficiently skilled and able to work on the tug, however neither Resolve nor Immigration had wanted to know anything about them.

"Immigration New Zealand appears happy to issue work permits to anyone who asks, regardless of how many New Zealanders want the jobs," he said.

"Our requests for Immigration New Zealand to ensure New Zealanders are given the chance to get these jobs are simply being ignored and the vessel has now arrived from Singapore and is sitting in Tauranga with a full complement of foreign officers.

"Presumably their work permits have now been issued by Immigration New Zealand without any further investigation into the number of suitably qualified and experienced masters and officers we told them we have on our books.

"And there's been no response to our requests to compare the CVs of the foreign work permit applicants against those of our members."

The role of the tug master and chief officer was to manoeuvre the barge into place at the Rena wreck, as well as towing it into port to unload or moving it to a safe place during rough weather, Capt. Henderson said.

"These are tasks that New Zealanders would normally do."

Steve Fisher, spokesman for Resolve, said the firm had no comment to make and he suggested the Bay of Plenty Times speak to Immigration New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand communications advisor Rachel Purdom said: "Our principle is always jobs for New Zealanders first, but sometimes skills shortages will mean we need the help of overseas workers in certain industries and areas.

"Applications for work visas are carefully considered, on an individual basis."