Union fears for NZ’s fuel security

New Zealand’s fuel security is at risk unless the Government acts quickly to ensure New Zealand coastal tankers remain in service, the maritime union says.

The Maritime Union of New Zealand, which represents seafarers, has joined forces with two other unions, New Zealand Merchant Service Guild and the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association, in a bid to protect New Zealand’s fuel security and save New Zealand coastal tankers.

The three unions want the Government to review fuel security measures in the "unprecedented change" to New Zealand’s fuel networks and ensure New Zealand coastal tankers remain in service.

With the impending closure of Northland’s Marsden Point refinery, petrol companies are planning to import refined fuel directly to New Zealand ports using overseas ships.

Until now, bulk refined fuel had been distributed throughout New Zealand from Marsden Point via a pipeline to Auckland, and by New Zealand coastal tankers to regional ports, including Port Otago.

Oil tanker MT Matuku crew members (from left) Santana Hiko (left), Hector Thorpe, Tom Langford...
Oil tanker MT Matuku crew members (from left) Santana Hiko (left), Hector Thorpe, Tom Langford and Sarah-Hope Butcher at Port Otago’s oil jetty on Friday. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Silver Fern Shipping, the operator of New Zealand’s two coastal tankers MT Kokako and MT Matuku, which regularly visit Dunedin, advised its crew late last year it planned to take the vessels out of service around April 2022.

It is now feared that by removing New Zealand coastal tankers from service, New Zealand would become completely dependent on overseas shipping for fuel supplies.

At a time when international shipping is experiencing major congestion and delayed schedules, exposing New Zealand to greater risks was a bad decision, Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison said.

"It will be some time before oil-based fuels are phased out and New Zealand needs to maintain fuel security in a volatile global situation," he said.

Merchant Service Guild national vice-president Iain Macleod said the removal of New Zealand coastal tankers would reduce New Zealand maritime transport capability.

Coastal tankers employed and trained a skilled New Zealand seafaring workforce which was essential for a maritime trading nation such as New Zealand, Mr Macleod said.

Aviation and Marine Engineers’ Association national industrial organiser Steve Westoby said New Zealand seafarers, including engineers, had an exemplary record of safety and reliability over decades of service on New Zealand coastal tankers.

New Zealand coastal tankers would be available to assist in any emergencies or disruption to fuel supplies, such as the failure of the Marsden Point to Auckland pipeline in 2017, Mr Westoby said.

When contacted, Transport Minister Michael Wood said that he was aware of the issue and had been in touch with the Maritime Union on this topic.

"I will continue to work on this issue and will monitor the situation.”

riley.kennedy@odt.co.nz

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