Environment Minister Nick Smith has declared that the Rena oil spill off the coast of Tauranga has become the worst maritime environmental disaster in New Zealand’s history.

Hundreds of tonnes of oil have now leaked in to the ocean, and with the vessel listing badly in heavy seas causing many shipping containers to fall into the sea. More and more toxic oil globules have landed on beaches as far as Sulphur Point and along the foreshore at Matua. Sheets of thick, pungent oil, two to three metres wide, have been found covering Papamoa beach.

And as the oil from the ship is spreading faster than expected, dead birds and other marine life are being left in its wake.

The captain of the ship has been charged under Section 65 of the Maritime Act, covering dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products. More charges may follow.

So the situation is dire and poor weather conditions continue to hamper efforts to tackle the spill and salvage the Rena. There is a very real danger that the ship will break up and disgorge the bulk of the heavy fuel oil remaining.

Given the severity of the situation, and the unavoidable questions being asked of our nation’s capability to deal with an oil spill of this size, it seems extraordinary that John Key has been so adamantly dismissing concerns over the potential risks from opening up our coastlines to deepwater oil drilling.

There has been a growing concert of concern that this tragedy has laid bare the Government’s ability to cope with such an incident, which has even led to Labour Party leader Phil Goff finally declaring:

“If we can’t cope with one ship that grounds offshore only a matter of kilometres from a major port, and it takes us so long to respond to that, what chance would we have of a failed oil well that was pouring hundreds of thousands of tonnes into the sea?”

It’s a very pertinent point and we welcome this long awaited insight from the leader of the opposition. It could become a defining issue in the upcoming election.

In times of crisis, politicians have an opportunity to become leaders. They have a responsibility to step up and make the tough decisions needed to protect our environment, and safeguard our economy. John Key’s staunch defence of his Government’s oil plans has been littered with falsehoods and obfuscation in an attempt to lead this country to ecological ruin. Enough is enough. It’s time he took action to define his legacy as a forbearer of a cleaner, smarter, more prosperous economy, rather than a clown prince of the fossil fuel circus.

It’s time to say no to deepwater oil drilling in New Zealand.



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