Thursday, 13 October 2011

Things are Interesting Down Here at Papamoa, and other thoughts of Jonathan Livingston [update 3]

A guest post from our correspondent Jonathan Livingston, a common-sense kind of gull who perches in an eyrie overlooking Papamoa Beach.

I see signs are going up down at the Mount, and volunteer beach oil cleaners have been advised they need to do a course before they can help - apparently clean-up volunteers must "register." The claim about the so-called “toxicity” of the oil clumps coming ashore is, I suspect, just spin to justify control.

An engineer colleague tells me from his fuel oil manual it is no more toxic than tar-seal.  Maybe just a few more base metals in it than more refined oil.

The main difference between this “bunker oil” and crude, I'm told, is that crude floats. So this stuff will just go all through the ocean. My theory is that it will ultimately go somewhere else, like North Korea for example, so I am not going to worry unduly about removing the tiny little bit on my beach as I’d be surprised if it didn’t wash away in the next storm and join the rest of it.

As for the "toxic" container, try googling ferrosilicon. Doesn't look too bad to me, but the the entire beach from the Mount to Maketu is now been pronounced off-limits on account of it. Nobody knows where it is, and it is claimed that it can’t readily be identified—which is awfully convenient for the clipboard wielders. (I wonder though how they deliver these containers to their respective consignees if they cannot be identified?)

H L Mencken would probably have been able to say something about all this, but hey, he's just a silly conspiracist, right?

Interesting too to hear Leighton Smith interview the salvor spokesman this morning, who I understand was claiming to be an “expert.” Leighton asked him why the ship could not be torched. The way I heard it, the spokesman was pretty much flummoxed, lost for words, and couldn't give any answer other than to mumble something about not knowing if that was an option.

It is surely surprising the expert spokesman couldn't explain why burning is not an option (it may well not be, I don’t know). Perhaps the answer was so obvious, the notion so absurd, that the spokesman didn't need to answer the question. Leighton mentioned that someone out of the thousands of experts now in on it would have suggested it had it been an option.

As far as the oil around my own nest, there is less there this morning, most of it having washed away to North Korea over the last tidal cycle.

Jonathan Livingston

UPDATE 1:  More from Jonathan:

I went all down the beach today. SO FAR it is pretty minimal, at the Mount you wouldn't know anything had happened, except from a few beached containers (being guarded), and one little enclave of oil eddying around near the Papamoa Surf Club. It doesn't extend far in either direction (so far), and could be cleaned up by a front end loader with a skilled operator in a few hours. Still haven't figured why it is being done by hand!

Oh, and that little micro-pocket of oil is where all the media shots are being taken of course.

Westerlies coming in over the next couple of days, so may have to make that Venezuela, not North Korea…

UPDATE 2From NewstalkZB: “…there are more details of the hazardous goods container - one of 88 which fell overboard.  Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman, Sophie Hazlehurst says it's not ferrous-silicon as first thought - but another dangerous liquid which is water soluble and not expected to cause a significant health risk at this stage.”

UPDATE 3:  And in related news:

There's a sliver of good news from the salvage crew that's been all day on the Rena, after being winched aboard this morning.
Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman, Sophie Hazlehurst says their first job was to see if they could get the power going and she understands they can.
Their next step is to heat the custard-thick fuel so it thins enough to pump.

Only just now getting the power going, and the fuel-oil heaters going? You’d wonder if perhaps the right decision might have been to allow the crew to sort that out first, and deal with the arrests later. Or, perhaps, were they just arrested to proffer the illusion the government is in charge?


  1. The British Government tried the "torch" option with the Torrey Canyon, many years ago now. They sent the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF to bomb it.

    It didn't work - everybody looked silly and the oil dispersed within a year. Life went back to normal for everybody.

    That was a super tanker, whereas this is a container ship with a general cargo worth many of millions of dollars and the salvors will have their eyes on that prize wanting to rescue as much of that as is possible and rightly so.

    Burning up other peoples property to save a penguin or two might work well in the minds of Big Government aficionado but not so well for the people who take the hit for the property that goes up in flames.

    Anyway what about GLOBAL WARMING and the greenhouse gasses from such an excercise?

  2. the drunken watchman13 Oct 2011, 19:00:00

    Andrei, re burning oil

    when you say "it didn't work" you are being only slightly more helpful than the bewildered "expert" on Leighton's show (who did'nt have anything to offer on the subject).

    I don't think anyone was suggesting bombing the Rena. Rather, just setting fire to the oil on it. You know, like lighting a bucket of oil, and watching it burn away.

    Nor do I think any of the "burners" are claiming that it is workable, they were just wondering why it wouldn't work, a question that still hasn't been answered (apart from the preservation of someone else's property, that is)

    GLOBAL WARMING? what are you on, wasnt the ship going to burn that oil anyway?

  3. the drunken watchman

    re my GLOBAL WARMING comment that was me being facetious

    As regards the rest as a matter of historical record this option was tried with the Torrey Canyon, and the method tried to ignite it was to bomb it and it didn't work.

    To burn any fuel it needs to be vapourized and mixed with oxygen. Petrol which is volatile does this fairly easily which is why we use it in our cars.

    Bunker oil which is far less volatile is also far harder to ignite.

    How would you go about igniting it and what would the consequences be if you succeeded? It just might make matters a lot worse = who knows? And if it didmake matters worse who would want to take responsibility for the decision?

  4. Hal Incandenza14 Oct 2011, 07:32:00

    This is great! Pollution is a sign of man's domination of nature! So is dead wildlife! The more the better! Hail the mighty Rand.

  5. the drunken watchman14 Oct 2011, 09:24:00

    thanks Andrei

    good points. Again, I dont have an opinion or even any helpful suggestions, just surprised how little the "expert spokesman" appeared to know about it

  6. the drunken watchman14 Oct 2011, 09:36:00


    yep, great isn't it.

    The two people who know more about that ship than any one else alive are sitting in court while the lawyers argue semantics

  7. Too much overwrought anguish over a minor accident [as accidents go].
    Nobody dead. More birds maimed in the first day of duck shooting each year than total dead. Fish will be unscathed. There's no shortage of gulls, penguins, shags and dotterels aren't so dotty as to get in the oil.

    The oil is low toxicity, it's just icky. The smell is not toxic - it just smells bad, like Rotorua but Rotorua's H2S is Rotorua is rapidly lethal in microscopic amounts. There's no hazard other than ick from people walking in it and getting it on their skin [which they won't want to do].

    Getting oil to stick to wet sand on a beach won't happen. As has already been shown, the onshore wind was bad luck, but now that westward winds are back, as usual, the waves will wash the oil off the beach and it will blow back out to sea and over to Chile - but it won't get there due to dilution and destruction of it by sun, oxygen and bugs eating it.

    My personal Papamoa-based inspector informed me today that the amount of oil on the beach is well down.

    It's quite pathetic the amount of hysteria over what is really a minor accident - no lives lost.

    What should be done is a bond be posted and held from ship operators before entering NZ, with refund with any earnings on their safe departure. "Sorry about your coastline, we're bankrupt" is not good enough.

  8. the drunken watchman14 Oct 2011, 21:31:00

    hear hear Maurice, well said

    the funny thing is that after the intial news bulletin this am, there was no more mention that I heard of the fact that the oil was mostly washed away overnight. It was as if the hard word had gone down on the media - "keep up the pretence, keep the volunteer registrations coming in" etc


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