4th November 2011 by Andrew Matheson, | 2 Comments
A ship, a dark night and a reef. When the container ship Rena ran aground last month while heading for the port of Tauranga in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, significant environmental damage threatened. Certainly a large amount of fuel oil spilled from the vessel, much of which washed up on nearby coasts. Containers toppled off the ship and many spilled their contents in the ocean.
An event like this triggers a large response, involving many agencies of national and local government, the military, and thousands of members of the public who have volunteered to assist with cleaning up beaches and rescuing wildlife. The work is still going on, with salvage experts on board the ship pumping out the last of the oil. They’re working in difficult and dangerous conditions as the ship is close to breaking apart.
The news isn’t all bad, though. The oil reached only a small part of the coastline, and the effects on wildlife have been less than expected. As New Zealand gears up for summer, visitors should know that only a very few of the country’s spectacular beaches are affected, and New Zealand is certainly open for business and travel.
The grounding of the Rena did turn a spotlight on Philippine–New Zealand relations. When two countries like New Zealand and the Philippines have more and more to do with each other, there will at times be difficulties and tragedies affecting the relationship, as I’ve commented before.
The ship’s captain and crew were Filipinos, and I was troubled to see a few media reports of antagonism to the Filipino community in general as a result of the incident. The Philippine embassy in Wellington has looked into this, talking to members of the Filipino community in Tauranga and getting a staff member in the area to investigate. They found a different picture from that painted in the media reports: the “negative reactions to the Filipino people there are few and are not reflective of the general sentiments of the public in Tauranga”. That’s encouraging to hear, and I’m pleased that Ambassador Virginia Benavidez is taking every opportunity during her introductory calls to dispel rumours of an anti-Filipino backlash.
All but two of the crew have returned home. The captain and one other officer remain in New Zealand as they have been charged with maritime safety offences relating to the incident, and will face court trials in the future. Legal action is taken regardless of the nationality of the alleged offenders.
The growing Filipino community in New Zealand is as concerned as anyone about the effects of the ship’s grounding. The embassy has called for Pinoys living in New Zealand — Piwis — to draw on the “time-honoured spirit of bayanihan”, or community spirit. Filipino community groups are organising ‘Pinoy brigades’ to join the thousands of volunteers in the Bay of Plenty clean-up operation.
The Philippine–New Zealand relationship is sound enough not to be threatened by an event such as the grounding of the Rena, and the real spirit of Kiwis and Pinoys has shone through.