Unnatural disaster

Ian Anderson, Workers Party member

The Rugby World Cup finally has a competitor for national coverage,  but it’s unlikely to inspire millions. On October the 5th, container vessel MV Rena ran aground off the coast of Tauranga; within a week, a 5-kilometre oil slick was killing wildlife. To say the least, this does not look good for the current government. In a mystifying sign of the times, capitalist rag the Dominion Post even ran the front-page head-line “People Power,” covering clean-up efforts by citizens in light of reportedly negligent bureaucracy. However for all their populism, the right-wing press doesn’t dare discuss the cause of the problem: a system that alienates the people from the land, for profit.

Like so many unnatural disasters, the spill lays class divisions bare. Rena is operated by the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which this year overtook Maersk as the largest global shipping line in terms of container capacity. In 2007 they were named shipping line of the year for the 6th time, due to their impressive capacity – this means fast, cheap, and plentiful commodities. To achieve this they must cut labour costs, and ignore ecological factors. Rena was a Flag of Convenience ship, meaning that it used a false national flag to dodge regulations, ignoring warnings from three inspectors before running aground. More than half the world’s commercial ships use flags of convenience.

Maritime New Zealand, funded in large part by transport conglomerates such as MSC, shows no interest in challenging the flag of convenience system. Like many so-called ‘regulators’ in bed with their industry, MNZ is far better at PR than implementing anything significant. Only the International Transport Federation and their comrades in the Maritime Union of New Zealand challenge the flag of convenience system, as they have done for decades.

By bringing a stark reminder of the risks of oil, this disaster also further underlines the class division that produced the Mana movement. Acting Minister for Energy and Resources Hekia Parata supports greater investment in non-renewables, including exploration for offshore oil-drilling. However communities particularly in the East Cape oppose exploration, while Mana opposes all further oil exploration and is sending a clean-up crew with the slogan “less hui more doey.”

Many are volunteering to help with the clean-up. Comrades wishing to help out should ensure they obtain access to PPE gear.

While solidarity efforts like this are crucial, they treat the symptom not the cause. Ultimately the coastline must be controlled by affected communities, and by the workers in its ports. Anything less is armed theft.


  1. FYI, Hekia is a National MP, not Maori Party.

  2. “Like so many unnatural disasters, the spill lays class divisions bare.”

  3. This is what Omar said about the Christchurch earthquake.

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