Migrante appeals for sobriety after MV Rena tragedy in New Zealand

Migrante International regrets the disastrous grounding of ship MV Rena which has caused an environmental tragedy for the people of New Zealand.

More than a week ago, MV Rena, a container ship with an all-Filipino crew figured in a tragic grounding in New Zealand Bay of Plenty causing fuel oil from the ship to spill ashore. The tragedy had so far claimed the lives of 1,290 birds and four other animals and caused injury to marine life.

“We deeply regret this environmental tragedy. We have received word from our chapter and the Filipino community in New Zealand that they are more than willing to extend their help in rehabilitation efforts,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Martinez, however, appealed to New Zealand citizens for sobriety and understanding as some racist elements lay the blame on the Filipino crew of MV Rena. There are approximately 20,000 Filipinos in New Zealand. “We have received reports that they are now being subjected to racist comments and they now fear for their safety after the incident.”

Since the oil spill, Filipino crew members of MV Rena have been put on flights back to the Philippines after threats of a racist backlash. Only six were left in Tauranga, including the ship captain and navigational officer, who now face court charges because of the tragedy.

“We trust that our kababayans will be given a fair trial. But we also stress that the ship owner also be held primarily liable for this disaster,” Martinez said.

Martinez cited a statement released by the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) saying that the MV Rena tragedy was “an accident waiting to happen.”

In a written statement, ISAC said that the MV Rena incident “reveals the half a century old problem of substandard shipping and the use of Flags of Convenience by unscrupulous ship owners to reduce cost and to amass more profit. The MV Rena is flying the Flag of Convenience of Liberia although the real or beneficial owners are Greek. It is an old and substandard vessel that was built in 1990. For the past 36 months, 50% of inspection for deficiencies resulted in the detention of the vessel. Last July, 21, 2011 it was inspected and detained in Fremantle , Australia for 17 deficiencies.”

“It is not surprising then, that this vessel would figure, sooner or later, in an accident of this sort. Many incidents involving substandard vessels flying Flags of Convenience tragically led not only to massive oil spills but to the loss of human lives. This is regardless of the color of the skin, or of the racial origins of the officers and men crewing these vessels.”

Martinez added, “While the ship captain and crew may be held liable, after sufficient investigation, we fear that they may be used as ‘scapegoats’ for the expediency and exoneration of the Greek company which owns MV Rena.”

The migrant leader said that the MV Rena tragedy brings to international attention the plight of Filipino seafarers and the need for the Philippine government to uphold and protect their rights and welfare.

“Our sea-based OFWs are in dire need of welfare and assistance from the Philippine government as much as the land-based. What is the government doing to help and assist our MV Rena seafarers?” ###