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EDS calls for Royal Commission into Rena

12 October 2011
Media statement: Environmental Defence Society calls for Royal Commission into Rena Disaster

The Environmental Defence Society, which criticised the slow response to the Rena disaster by authorities, has called on the government to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry as soon as the current recovery efforts are over.

"The primary focus at the moment is obviously on managing the terrible consequences of the disaster," said EDS Chairman Gary Taylor.

"But it would give the public some comfort to know that when the timing is right, there will be a full and independent public inquiry into New Zealand's worst marine environmental disaster. This needs to be conducted by a Royal Commission to ensure it's fully independent from government.

"Such an inquiry should examine the immediate question of how the ship foundered and who is responsible but go further and examine the responsible agencies' responses to the crisis.

"Serious questions remain unanswered about the delays in response, about the adequacy of oil spill equipment available in New Zealand and its deployment and about whether the recovery effort could have been more effective.

"The Royal Commission needs wide terms of reference to look at our readiness to deal with future spills, whether from coastal shipping, oil tankers or offshore oil exploration. We need to take a hard, cool-headed look at what world's best practice in oil spill responses looks like in 2011 and make clear decisions about how much we should invest in preparedness.

"The terms of reference should also include the relationship between the responsible authorities and the local community and whether there are opportunities for more streamlined engagement of volunteer effort. It should examine whether the present institutional and regulatory framework is fit for purpose.

"Those who argue that there is no link between this disaster and possible spills from offshore oil and gas exploration miss the point: the birds, beaches and fish don't care where the oil comes from. The same agencies, the same gear and the same rapid response capability is required whatever the spill source. That's why we should carefully and comprehensively review the way we would handle an oil tanker-based disaster as well - potentially involving tens of thousand of tonnes of oil.

"New Zealand has 19,000 km of coastline and our oceans are rich in biodiversity. Our coast and our wonderful beaches define who we are as a nation.
"Nothing less than a full Royal Commission into the Rena disaster will suffice. We must make sure nothing like this can happen again," Mr Taylor concluded.

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