2 Nov 2011

Political parties support Rena inquiry

12:01 pm on 2 November 2011

National's environment spokesperson Nick Smith has defended the authorities involved in the Rena salvage operation and is also supporting calls for a commission of inquiry.

At an environmental election debate in Auckland on Tuesday, Dr Smith said for the first time that he knew an oil spill was inevitable when he heard the container ship had hit a reef in Bay of Plenty on 5 October.

But, he said, based on what the authorities have told him, the salvage operation is happening at speed.

Some members of the audience expressed concern afterwards that if authorities knew there was a strong likelihood of an oil spillage, cleanup equipment should have been brought into the area faster.

And Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told the meeting that Dr Smith's statements were a political response, because crisis management and being competent is a key election issue.

Dr Smith said some of the criticism by Labour and the Greens about Maritime New Zealand and the salvage teams has been ill-informed and unfair on people dealing with an emergency situation.

Both parties and Labour agreed that an an independent inquiry was needed to determine how the grounding happened, and whether the response was fast enough.

Dr Smith said he doesn't support a Royal Commission into the disaster, because there was no loss of life, but favours a commission of inquiry, the next level down.

He said it could be some time before the exact level of inquiry is established, as at the moment, the focus is on the salvage operation.