Wednesday, 12 October 2011

It’s a disaster [updated]

There’s no way around it: the ship breaking up and spewing fuel oil off Papamoa is a disaster.

A disaster for the beach, the wildlife, the home-owners and beach regulars (of which I’ve been one), for Tauranga harbour, for the shipping industry—and, one would hope, for the ship’s owners, helmsmen and navigators.

Since the ship’s stranding, the weather has hardly helped the salvage. But given how much interest there is in cleaning up the spill, is there a reason there aren’t waves of volunteers out there on the beaches helping clean up? There are stories about that folks being banned from doing any clean up by busybodies more interested in waving clipboards than cleaning up.  (Just like happened in Christchurch after the shakes, eh. Seems to be the knee-jerk response to disaster by “the authorities” these days: to spout about how they’re “in charge” while demonstrating precisely the opposite.)

And make no mistake, it’s a disaster too for any large-scale oil industry that might—or, now, might not—ever appear off the East Coast. Eric Crampton says, and I agree with him, “The Greens are largely right on this one.”

There's little chance of public support for substantial offshore drilling if a minor freighter crash leads to locals having to clean up the mess [or being barred from doing so]. The exploration companies ought to pull out something credible demonstrating either capacity to contain a spill or financial capacity to pay for a clean-up should a spill eventuate.

Yes, they should.  And yes, it’s true that the Gulf of Mexico spill appears to have cleaned itself up very quickly, and was eventually good for fish stocks rather than bad.

But the circumstances here aren’t quite the same (the naturally occurring microbes that happily clean up crude oil, for example, don’t do the same job  for fuel oil) and there’s been far too many recent cases of companies expecting to privatise profits and socialise their losses.

Time for one of them to step up now, or (deservedly) forever hold their peace.

So what do you think?

UPDATE: It would a disaster compounded if the justified anger at what appears to be rank sea-going incompetence were to spill over into anti-corporation anti-industrialism. A letter by Don Boudreaux at the time of BP’s blunder in the Gulf of Mexico oil makes the pertinent points:

During today’s 1:00pm hour you played a clip of a listener who is “livid that Americans aren’t up in arms against the devastation that corporations inflict” on us.  This gentleman’s anger was sparked by the BP oil spill.
    I have little sympathy for BP, it being a firm that has often feasted at government troughs.  But some perspective is now very much needed on the costs and benefits of corporations.
    Consider that the latest estimated cost of the BP spill is $33 billion.  That’s a lot of money, to be sure.  But this sum pales in comparison to the amount of money that Wal-Mart’s retailing efficiencies are estimated to save consumers each year: $200 billion.*
    Oil spills are compellingly photographable – and, hence, attention-getting and emotion-stirring.  In contrast, lower prices for – which, by the way, mean fewer resources used to bring to market – clothing, children’s toys, digital cameras, camping equipment, kitchen appliances, groceries, and other goods that we routinely enjoy are not photographable in any compelling way.  The result is that the social benefits of corporate innovations and competition are easily overlooked, ignored, taken for granted, forgotten.  But these benefits are enormous.  And any assessment of the worthiness of corporations in modern life had best take them into accurate account lest we adopt policies that make us all poor and miserable.

Donald J. Boudreaux


  1. Maybe its time we considered two things
    1. Stop allowing ships registered Flags of Convenience from operating in New Zealand Waters.
    2. maybe the idea of NZ owning it own shipping service is not such a silly idea as National claimed. Owning our own line and insisting that our imports/exports being sent on NZ owned vessels would not only make good sense but add value to our country

  2. @Ron:
    So if one ship running aground means nationalising the shipping fleet, I eagerly await your taxes buying me a (presumably hybrid) Volvo seeing as a saw a car crash yesterday.

  3. @Ron:

    "Add value"? I rather think that, for an exporting country frequently characterised as being "the last bust stop on the planet," having to rely on an inefficient, union-ridden, nationalised bus line to get our goods to and from the rest of the world would be a recipe for destroying value, rather than adding to it.

  4. @Ron

    Off you go then, get your mates together and purchase a shipping operation?

    What's that you want other people to use their money ...

  5. A poorly maintained vessel run aground on a clearly marked, very small reef...smells like an insurance scam. Plus I heard that the owner is not responsible for this - the rust-bucket was leased and they are distancing themselves. It reeks of a scam -- always follow the money!!

    Totally agree with this comment:

    But given how much interest there is in cleaning up the spill, is there a reason there aren't waves of volunteers out there on the beaches helping clean up? There are stories about that folks being banned from doing any clean up by busybodies more interested in waving clipboards than cleaning up.

    I think the volunteers should just go in en mass and do it - we are too mealy-mouthed when it comes to authority in this country.

    I doubt that actual act or whatever it is, has the authority to ban volunteers anyway.


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