Book review: Black Tide: The Story Behind the Rena Disaster by John Julian

This book is available in bookstores now.

I don’t think it’s a huge assumption to think everyone knows what the Rena oil disaster is; if not, there’s a chance you’ve been out of the country and not up to date with current events or you live under a rock.

Described as New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster, the spill was caused by the grounding of MV Rena on the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga on 5 October 2011. Black Tide: The Story Behind the Rena Disaster by John Julian tells of the ship’s history, the wreck, the first five days, and carries on through to explaining the city of Tauranga and the future of Rena.

Black Tide is an easy-flowing book and easy to read too; the writing style of John Julian creates a simple story that is straightforward to follow and understand. The two sections for photos are great quality and add to the story.

Julian goes in to great detail about the Rena and the surrounding disaster, it is clear he knows his stuff. He explains the history of the ship, built in 1990 and known as Zim America; each chapter begins with a quote, some directly in reference to Rena, others from difference sources and times but still on the topic.

My favourite is at the start of chapter six, The Reef (p.119): ‘It was the Law of the Sea they said. Civilisation ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.’ Hunter S. Thompson.

Julian also gives decent histories at the beginning of chapters before launching in to the disaster itself. For example, a history of oil spills is given (p72). This attention to detail is great; he reflects on these spills while explaining elements of Rena too. However, I can’t help but get some impression of fleshing out. At 208 pages, Black Tide isn’t particularly long or short, but it did come out rather quickly.

Black Tide was released April 2012, after the ship split in half but before it stopped being a major issue for New Zealand (which is clearly still is). Over the first few months, the news was dominated with the event; slowly it’s been edging away from main news. However, the cost to taxpayers was just a headline around the country ($35mill), as well as the captain and navigation officer being jailed for seven months. By waiting for a few more months, these elements could have been included in, instead of attracting the feeling of a rush job to be the first book on the subject.

There were also a few minor mistakes in the texts, my favourite being on page 27, ‘…Prime Minister John , then transport…”. Not sure how ‘Key’ was missed out, considering the space isn’t quite big enough to write it in either.

The Rena disaster is no doubt a dark time for our environment. Although the book has the main points and looks deep into the disaster, instead of being mostly information one could find on the internet, I really feel that Black Tide could have benefited greatly by waiting for more of the story before being published.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

 Black Tide: The Story Behind the Rena Disaster
by John Julian
Published by Hodder Moa
ISBN 9781869712709

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