Q+A interview with Steven Joyce
Sunday 16th October, 2011
Q+A interview with Steven Joyce.
- Cost of oil response to date is $3.5m, salvage cost is at the ship owner's account.
- Believes Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which leases the ship from Costamare need to "step up and be part of this exercise".
- Rejects "armchair critics" and says "we have done everything we possible can in the time available".
- Having an emergency response ship available would have made "absolutely no difference" in this situation.
- Agrees Maritime Transport Act should have been upgraded to double liability cap to $24m.
- Rena situation is one of the most difficult vessel recoveries in the world - "8 or 9 out of 10".
The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be watched on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news
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STEVEN JOYCE interviewed by PAUL HOLMES
PAUL Welcome to the Transport Minister, Steven Joyce. I mean, really, can’t it be said that the whole affair, Minister, shows us that we have serious deficiencies in our ability to respond rapidly to serious oil spills on our coast?
JOYCE – Transport Minister
No, I think it’s a completely naïve and unrealistic statement, Paul, I have to say, because this ship was run aground at speed on a reef last Wednesday morning at 2.30...
PAUL Yes, and what it did... it’s still stuck there, and it’s leaking – what – hundreds and hundreds of tons of oil, and it could leak 1.7 million litres of oil, and we’re still struggling to get anywhere near getting that oil out.
MR JOYCE And the reality is that is because of the way it hit the reef and the state of the ship and the state of the pipe work. It was on a 12-degree list. Now, I certainly share everybody’s frustration, particularly the people of the Bay of Plenty’s frustration, in terms of what's occurred there, because...
PAUL What about what Russel Norman’s saying, though, about those crucial first five days? The Awanuia had to go and dump its load at Marsden Point, because it couldn’t...
MR JOYCE The Awanuia was... I’m sorry, Paul, the Awanuia was not a limiting factor on that. It’s one for the armchair critics to focus on, but it was not a limiting factor. The limiting factor was the state of the pipes on the ship, the location of the ship on the reef and having to rebuild a piping system so that they could get the oil off the reef. If they had gone in there, as has been recommended by many of editorialisors on this issue, if they had gone on there to take the oil off the reef and open the valves, they would have pouring oil into the water. It would have been....
PAUL With respect, there's no point getting angry about the editorialising.
MR JOYCE I’m not getting angry about it at all.
PAUL No, because if politics is considerably all about perception, the perception, can I say to you, is that the government twiddled its thumbs.
MR JOYCE No, well, that’s... I’m sorry...
PAUL The first weekend, the Prime Minster was going between the Zespri conference...
MR JOYCE Do you want to have a rant, or do you actually want to talk about it?
PAUL ...Diwali and the World Cup.
MR JOYCE Do you want to talk about it?
MR JOYCE OK, well, let me take you through it. That is not... That may be the perception. With the greatest respect, that is an incorrect perception. The experts were on the boat on Wednesday evening at 6 o'clock. They worked their way through to try and get the oil off the ship as quickly as they possibly could. Now, I appreciate there’s a perception out there, but with the respect, I’m not actually that focused on the perceptions at this point. I’m focused on actually achieving the salvage, supporting the salvagers in terms of getting their job done, constantly questioning whether they have got all the equipment and whether they have everything available, and then explaining to people what is actually going on on that reef and with that ship so they are fully informed about what's going to happen.
PAUL Right, let’s talk about some of the salvage aspects. The cost is already over $12 million.
MR JOYCE No, that’s not the cost.
MR JOYCE The cost of the oil response so far is around $3.5 million. The cost of the salvage I don’t know, but that’s entirely at the ship’s owner’s accounts, the cost of the salvage and the containers. The oil response is currently at $3.5 million, and that’s what relates to that liability under the Maritime Transport [Act]...
PAUL What's the total clean-up going to be, do you think? What's the total clean-up going to be?
MR JOYCE I have no idea, because it totally depends on what actually happens to the oil on the ship right now. So as you know, there’s 1300-and-something tons of oil still on that ship, and actually we should thank the salvors for the work they did prior to that last storm, because they actually were able cap all the tanks .
PAUL Yeah, alright, alright.
MR JOYCE ...and to stop all those from leaking during that storm. No, no, I think it’s important that we point this out that those things were done prior to that. They also shifted a lot of oil from the damaged front of the ship down to the rear of the ship, and they made attempts to remove that oil from the ship.
PAUL Mr Joyce, the point is... Minister, the point is it’s probably going to cost more than $12 million. It could cost tens of millions.
MR JOYCE It could well cost that.
PAUL Right. So can you go to Costamare for more than the $12 million cap?
MR JOYCE We’re working on the legal position at the moment. Can I just also say at this point, Paul, it’s not just Costamare. The second-largest container-shipping company in the world, MSC, is involved in this.
PAUL Yes, they lease it, don’t they?
MR JOYCE I was not happy with their reaction last week. I have called them for a meeting in Wellington tomorrow. They have to step up and be part of this exercise.
PAUL Who is this crowd?
MR JOYCE This is Mediterranean Shipping Company. It’s the second-biggest container-shipping company in the world.
PAUL And they lease the ship from Costamare Incorporated?
MR JOYCE They lease the ship from Costamare Incorporated, and I believe that they should be stepping up a lot more publicly than they have been to this point, and we’ll be discussing that at some length tomorrow morning.
PAUL Right, now, the ship, we understand, is insured for $1 billion for a one-off pollution event. Do you understand that’s correct, and if so can we get some of that?
MR JOYCE Well, no, I don’t understand that that’s necessarily correct, but we have the legal guys working on this as we speak. We’ve got the Crown Law working on it, but also some maritime specialist lawyers, not just from New Zealand, and also undoubtedly the ship’s owners will also have lawyers on it, but that’s the sort of thing that we’ll be going through.
PAUL And of course, eventually, 10 days on, the ship’s owners eventually phoned with a big apology and got in touch with the government for a big apology to the people of New Zealand.
MR JOYCE Some would argue that was a little slow.
PAUL A little slow, and no mention of money. That surprise you?
MR JOYCE Well, no, I suspect that they’re probably protecting their legal position, but we’ll have that very...
PAUL So who’s been handling this? There's been some confusion amongst members of the public about whether Nick Smith’s doing it or you’re doing it or Maritime...
MR JOYCE Well, it has to be a combination of both, in terms of the minsters, because both things are involved.
PAUL Well, you are perceived to be the head honcho on it.
MR JOYCE That’s fine. I don’t care how that’s perceived. The reality is that we’ve been involved since Wednesday morning. I got my first briefing at 7am Wednesday morning on the day. They had the salvors on the ship that day. They had the 25-person response team set up in Tauranga on that day.
PAUL Did the Prime Minster... The moment he heard about it, did he delegate chief responsibility to you?
MR JOYCE He didn’t have to, because it is my responsibility under the Maritime Transport Act.
PAUL How do you rate the job you’ve done so far?
MR JOYCE Well, it’s not for me to rate it. It’s for the people of the Bay of Plenty to rate it.
PAUL I’m sure you have an opinion about how you’ve done the job.
MR JOYCE Well, I think we’ve done everything we possibly can in the time available. We have got brought all the resources that we have to bear, including those international resources. At the end of the day, the salvors have to do their job. They are undoubtedly the best team in the world.
PAUL Yes, yes. And at the end of the day...
MR JOYCE No, no, no, I think it’s important to point out, because...
PAUL Well, you have pointed it out, Minister, with the greatest of respect.
MR JOYCE No, I think you sound like one of those armchair critics, which is fine, who’s got views on how salvage should occur, which is also fine. But I actually have to deal with the realities of the situation.
PAUL I know you do, and I’m not armchair critic. I’m a current affairs host whose job is to ask questions.
MR JOYCE That’s fine.
PAUL Now, you have 3300 ships a year around our coast. They carry 10 million tons of oil in 60 ships. In August of 2010, in a letter from Gerry Brownlee to the Maritime Union, he agrees that an emergency response ship able to handle a major disaster was a good idea for our waters, and nothing was ever heard about this again.
MR JOYCE Can I say two things?
PAUL Well, I’ve got the letter. See, there's the letter.
MR JOYCE Well, that’s fine, but the reality is that would have made absolutely no difference to this incident. That was not the delaying factor on the first five days. The delaying factor was the state of the ship’s pipes. It wouldn’t have mattered if you’d had five emergency vessels lined up off the back of that boat on the first five days. It wouldn’t have made any difference, Paul. Now, that’s a sad reality, but it happens to be true, and we will have an investigation afterwards, as you always do in these things, to see what you can learn. But I’m telling you now the limiting factor was the state of the pipes on that vessel and the fact that they had to rebuild the piping system...
PAUL But Gerry Brownlee was of the view that a major ship that can handle a major response is probably needed for these waters. I mean, Auckland, I understand, has one oil recovery vessel. I read in the royal New Zealand Herald this week that that is kept at Te Atatu and it’s high and dry and would have to be transported by road before it could get anywhere near the water.
MR JOYCE But as I say, the issue is not the vessels that were available to take the oil off the ship. That is not the issue in this case. The issue is the availability of the equipment on the vessel to do the job and the fact that they had to build piping systems, pumping systems, because the ship’s own systems...
PAUL And, Minister, I’m sure it’s a terribly frightening experience for the salvors deep within the ship.
MR JOYCE Well, actually, I can tell you it is. They were talking to me about it last Tuesday morning before they took the salvors off. I talked to the head salvage master, who’s a Dutchman, who was on there at 4.30 in the morning. He told me about how the ship was bouncing up and down on the reef and they had to remove their guys because the container stacks were swaying so much. I think that is a little... you know, understandably a little bit misunderstood in the exercise. These guys are desperate to get the oil off the boat, but I can tell you right now, there will, I imagine... The weather’s going to cut up rough again on Monday night. My strong suspicion, with all the conversations that I’ve had in the last 48 hours, is there will still be oil on that ship on Monday night...
PAUL Right, let’s just stay on our preparedness, if you wouldn’t mind, because the New Zealand oil preparedness and response capability statement of 2006 said we don’t have adequate first-response equipment.
MR JOYCE In 2006?
PAUL I think it was 2006, so we’ve had plenty of warning. Phil Goff, though, has very helpfully told us that the Transport and Industrial Relations Selection Committee said in late 2008 that we should sign the convention on the limitation of liability in maritime claims. It should be passed into law. It involved an update of the Maritime Transport Act. It was not done.
MR JOYCE Well, can I...?
PAUL It was not done.
MR JOYCE Well, can I tell...? Do you want to know the story behind it?
PAUL And if you’d signed it, you would now be able to get $24 million dollars instead of the $12 million.
MR JOYCE Well, actually, I think you’re correct, but I think I’d keep his head down if I was him on that one, because the convention was signed in 1996. Right through the nine years of Labour’s government, they didn’t do anything about it. They actually took the policy decision to update the law in June 2008 – none of which he will have told you, because I’ve seen his press release – and they actually decided at that point that they would do it. The decision was made, so therefore it hasn’t come before Cabinet again. The Labour Party put it on the lowest possible priority on the legislative timetable, which is priority five. We actually upgraded that priority, and I regret that I was never advised that this would have made that difference.
PAUL No, but...
MR JOYCE I agree it should be done by now.
PAUL The big question is this: you are intending to go ahead with deep-sea oil exploration.
MR JOYCE Entirely different.
PAUL Now, what if you...? No, it’s not.
MR JOYCE Is it. I’m sorry, it is.
PAUL It is not. It’s the spilling of oil in the marine environment.
MR JOYCE Yes, but I’m sorry...
PAUL Spilling of oil in the marine environment.
MR JOYCE No, but the amounts you’ve raised around the convention is entirely different to that environment. They have entirely different...
PAUL No, I’m talking about your preparedness. What if you got a gusher like the Gulf of the coast of...?
MR JOYCE But that’s the point. I mean, we’ve introduced the EEZ legislation, which will be in place before that occurs. Nick Smith’s been very focused on that, and if you talk to him about it, he will tell you that’s underway. There's also a number of other conventions that will be updated before that exercise is done, but it is entirely different conventions. You can’t say, “Oh, this convention over here would have dealt with it,” because that’s...
PAUL If you can’t get 1.7 million litres of oil off a wrecked ship 20km off...
MR JOYCE 1.7 million... Yeah, well...
PAUL Litres. Litres.
MR JOYCE The 1700 tons, yes, I agree.
PAUL Off the coast of Tauranga – 20 K’s off the coast of Tauranga – what would you do about getting one 200 miles out, 5 miles deep?
MR JOYCE With the greatest respect, Paul, you’re starting to sound like those armchair critics again. The reality is the ship... the thing that happened with that ship is that somebody drove it onto the reef at high speed. It is one of the most difficult vessel recoveries seen in the world. The guys that have come out here have said that it’s eight or nine out of 10 on the scale.
PAUL Minister, I thank you...
MR JOYCE They’re doing their absolute best to sort it out, and I understand the views of the people of Tauranga around it, because I feel exactly the same. I’ve spent a lot of time there, but...
PAUL And there I’ve got to leave it.
MR JOYCE ...the point has to be actually said that they are doing the job that they have been asked to do and they’re doing it well.
PAUL I thank you very much for coming on the