Dr Rennie recently completed a study on the aftermath of the Rena oil spill, which occurred off the coast of Tauranga in 2011, and says the case provides useful lessons, including engaging openly with tangata whenua organisations and individuals.
“The probability of the Rena case occurring was low, but the effects were catastrophic and created considerable division in the Bay of Plenty region, especially amongst iwi,” he says.
“It seems wise to ensure that the consequences of a wreck, rather than the likelihood of its occurrence, are considered when assessing port facilities for events and activities.”
Dr Rennie says the Rena case also highlights the need to consider the route that vessels might take, not just the area of high vessel congestion and most probable spill.
“For example, when considering port developments to support an event like the America’s Cup, which is likely to attract many vessels, assessors should take into account what would happen if one of these ships was wrecked.”
Proposals have also been made to dredge port facilities to allow larger vessels access to ports or relocate a particular type of vessel from one port to another, for instance from Auckland to Whangarei. Dr Rennie says that the consequences of a wreck occurring with a new type of vessel en route to the new facilities should be considered in these situations as well.
“This means considering not just the sensitivity of the ecological environment, but also the social and cultural environment.
“The effect of the Rena grounding and associated discharges on the mauri of the area and on tangata whenua and kaitiaki was particularly evident.”
Dr Rennie says the owner of the Rena vessel went to considerable efforts to consult with the public, particularly tangata whenua, about an application to dump the remains of the Rena and allow ongoing discharges. This resulted in the majority of tangata whenua groups agreeing to the application when they had initially been opposed to it.
“For impact assessors, the lessons are clear: the owner was largely successful by openly engaging with tangata whenua groups on a face-to-face basis and cooperating with them throughout the process.”
Associate Professor Hamish Rennie runs a Master of Disaster Risk and Resilience and a Master of Planning programme, which equip students with the skills to help communities become more resilient in the face of adversity.