Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena review headed by ex-GCSB boss

The container ship MV Rena pictured where it struck the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson
The container ship MV Rena pictured where it struck the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson

The high-flying bureaucrat who was the head of the Government Communications Security Bureau when the illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom was launched has been chosen to head an independent review into the response to the Rena grounding.

It was announced this morning Simon Murdoch, also the former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, would lead a high-level inquiry revealed by the Herald this week.

Murdoch was acting director of the GCSB from July to December 19 last year.

The illegal spying of the German-born internet tycoon, a scandal which has now engulfed Prime Minister John Key, was launched on December 16.

The review into the response to the Rena's grounding on the Astrolabe Reef last year - its first anniversary will be marked tomorrow - was commissioned jointly by Ministry of Transport and Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), and will be overseen by Ministry of Transport chief executive Martin Matthews, the MNZ chair David Ledson and MNZ director Keith Manch.

The review will examine the MNZ response to the Rena incident and establish the factors that contributed to, or limited, its effectiveness.

It will involve discussions with MNZ staff, and central and local government stakeholders.

Although the review will not involve public submissions, Mr Murdoch will discuss the Rena response with all relevant central and government bodies, and with other key agencies that supported the MNZ response.

Mr Manch said that a review of such large scale incidents, carried out independently, was standard practice for emergency response organisations.

"As an organisation, business units within MNZ have done a lot of thinking about the response to the Rena grounding," he said.

"Now it is timely to get an independent view," he said.

"There will be things that have been done very well, but inevitably there will be areas where things could have been done better and we can take lessons away from this incident."

Mr Manch said the review's focus was solely on MNZ's response to the incident.

He said the causes of the grounding had been established in the criminal investigation that led to the prosecution of the master Mauro Balomaga and second officer Leonil Relon.

It is expected the independent review will be completed in the first quarter of next year.
The review report will be made public.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is conducting a separate investigation into the grounding, due in March.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby told the Herald this week he wanted the inquiry to be a "positive learning experience rather than a negative blame exercise".

Mr Crosby believed the official response to the Rena's grounding - which resulted in 350 tonnes of oil spilling into the sea - had been good overall.

More than 8000 volunteers stepped forward when oil reached Bay of Plenty beaches, which were largely reopened after just a month.

"But we should learn from it, because we could have done better."

Green MP Gareth Hughes called for a royal commission of inquiry just weeks after the grounding.

This week he said he wanted any official review to be independent from the Government, and "as broad-based as possible".

"I think there were lots of issues raised by the Rena disaster, from the issue of flag of convenience ships, which the Rena was, through to Maritime New Zealand's role."

Mr Hughes also wanted an investigation into how taxpayers - who face paying millions of dollars over the Government's own Rena-related costs - could be better safeguarded.

He suggested joining international compensation funds larger than the Government already had, tougher penalties for polluters, and lifting minimum levels of compulsory insurance for existing oil rigs.

Labour's transport spokesman, Grant Robertson, said: "This was our worst-ever environmental maritime disaster and therefore it justifies the strongest level of inquiry that is possible in New Zealand."

He felt anything less was "disrespectful" to Bay of Plenty residents and "irresponsible" in preparing for possible disasters in the future.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 19 Dec 2014 05:39:12 Processing Time: 491ms