Thursday, April 12, 2012

What does New Zealand have to do with Liberia?

Generally not a lot, however over the past six months, stories about New Zealand have been showing up in news alerts about Liberia, and vice versa.

The reason is the Rena, a freighter vessel which struck the Astrolabe reef off the eastern coast of New Zealand's north island on October 5th, and has been lodged their since, slowly breaking up. Details of the toxic threat of oil and other chemicals leaking into the reef, and the US$100million clean-up that followed can be found in articles from around the world.

The Greek-owned, Swiss-chartered, Filipino-crewed cargo liner is, like a large number of ships on the high-seas, Liberian-registered. Liberia has long been one of the world's leading "flags-of-convenience" which has often been a source of bad press in general as an opaque source of foreign currency for Liberia's government and an unhealthy arrangement in which the world's oceangoing operators seek the lightest regulations to register their fleets (article from 2003 when Taylor departed). I mentioned the Liberian Ship Registry back in February when talking about their shiny new building in Sinkor.

Its only worse when there is a headline-grabbing accident with a Liberian-registered vessel, such as happened when Carnival Cruise Line's megaliner the Ecstasy caught fire after leaving Miami in 1998. The footage, caught on camera by Miami news stations, broadcast images of a blackening stern with the word MONROVIA emblazoned in huge letters (see below). The only connection to Liberia at all is legal and tax paperwork, yet its yet another way that evening news watchers associate negative news events with Liberia.

In the case of the Rena, it seems there may be some actual involvement of Liberian government authorities in allowing the ship to continue on its fateful voyage across the Tasman Sea. From an Associated Press Story from the end of February:

A December investigation by the AP found that Australian authorities impounded the ship 10 weeks before the crash after finding 17 safety and maintenance violations, but that Liberian maritime authorities intervened, essentially saying the ship was safe to sail and the problems could be fixed later. It's not clear whether any of the previously identified problems played a role in the grounding.

So far, the crew and the owners have been charged, but there is no further word if Liberia could be in further trouble or exposed to cost recovery by antipodean authorities. The repetitional damage that Liberia's foreign image continues to suffer at the convenience of its international maritime registry has been inflicted once again.

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