Category Archives: Marine Pollution

Eating predatory fish linked to methylmercury in humans

I belong to an international network called International POPs Elimination Network which has obtained small grants to fund research for its global CSO members.  Their ambit widened to toxics which fall under the categories for all the UN conventions on Chemicals & Wastes, because of the recognized interlinkages among issues.

 While for Pacific Islands the emphasis is on improving management of chemicals and wastes rather than technical expertise with regard to industrial byproduts, there are still not many Pacific CSOs who follow these multilateral environmental agreements.

I was happy with the  emphasis during the Health Conference on research to gather data to support policy-making

First, there is the same issue mentioned by Dr Maoate in his keynote speech i.e. translating European terms into Cook Islands maori.  I tend to characterize bad chemicals as vairaku kino, that is “bad medicine”. We have  had advisory  fact sheets about mercury   translated into maori by former Parliamentary translator.  We decided to coin the phrase “mecurio” for mercury because the periodic table of elements has not been translated.

The second point I would like to reinforce  is the targeting specific populations with regard to interventions.

My third point is focus on minimizing risks to human health and environment from methlymercury

UN Environmental Program has an initiative called Strategic Approach to International chemicals Management (SAICM) which provides a forum for industry, academia, practitioners, government policymakers and negotiations; and civil society organisations or NGOs.   Under SAICM, one of the current emphases is to engage the health sector in effective, safe management of chemicals and waste, starting at international level with WHO and working successively down through regional, subregional and national levels. 

Brain damage resulting from methylmercury exposure in utero has similar social consequences to those characterized earlier in the Conference with regard to exposure to alcohol.  So the key message is about reducing exposure to toxics that will have lifelong impacts on a person’s life.

The  United States Geological Service or USGS carried out a ground-breaking study in 2009.  The aim was to find the origins of methylmercury in the North Pacific Ocean, and how it gets into fish.

It was estimated that 75% of human exposure to mercury globally was from fish or shellfish, but nobody knew how it got there.  It was further estimated that about 40% of U.S. exposure was from Pacific fish, but there were no research results available.

In 2009, the USGS published its findings in a report entitled “Mercury Sources, Distribution & Bioavailability in the North Pacific Ocean: Insights from Data & Models”.  The complex methylation process was explained

US Environmental Protection Authority (US EPA) commented that one unexpected finding was the significance of long-range transport by large ocean circulation currents from the west to the east.  Typically it was though that emissions were due to land-based combustion activity but this particular study concluded that emissions originated near Asia.


Some sceptics dispute this; and others have commented that radionucleoide technology can be used to determine from which continent the combustion source originated. 

 An important point for the Cook Islands is that “global deposition” explains why islands so far from the continents should be affected when there are no  nearby sources such industrial processes or coal-based power stations.

 In Europe, PRTRs (“pollutant release and transfer registers”) were set up to monitor pollutant releases under a regional convention called the Aarhus Convention.   Air quality monitoring is also carried outin the Arctic.  Perhaps the Pacific region could do with a similar monitoring system.

Objection to EIA Petrocean Submersible Fuel Line – Rarotonga, Cook Islands

DATE: 4 MARCH 2015




Applicant/Proponent: TransAm throughMr Oki Apera (hereinafter referrred to as “the proponent”)

Consultant: Mr Daryl Rairi

Reviewer: Fereti Filipe of Envirocare & Engineering Consult Ltd, Christchurch


Unfair Foreign Company Competition with Locally-Owned Companies

A Bloomberg overview of Pacific Energy Southwest Pacific Limited indicates the parent company is Pacific Petroleum Company SA, formed in 2006 by residents of French Polynesia i.e. a foreign company (since French Polynesia is still a territory of France). In a press release in the Cook Islands Herald about the 2010 sale of the former Cook Islands company JUHI to Pacific Energy Southwest Pacific SA, a company spokesman stated “With this acquisition, our group is now bigger than any of our competitors in this region.”1 The news item went further to say that the PPC Group are now operating in are French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga, American Samoa, Vanuatu, Cook Islands (JUHI) and Tuvalu.

I believe that JUHI was set up in the 1980s to supply aviation fuel to the airport, and that TOA (formerly Mobil) and Triad were to supply retail fuel to local consumers. These local local companies had to bear the expense of installing pipelines to supply their fuel depots.

As a Cook Islander, I think that there should be a level playing field in that the same legislation should apply to all fuel suppliers. I think is unsound economic policy to give an unfair advantage to a transnational company and instead all I call on the Cook Islands Government, through the National Environment Service, to reconsider this inequality. The proponent should replace the existing pipeline as set out in page 12 Section 2.4 Alternatives Considered.

Cook Islands Government Policy Switch to Clean Renewable Energy

In the EIA, it is asserted that the proposed project to install the submersible fuel pipeline and offshore mooring system will result in the reduction of fuel costs to consumers. However, at the Third Small Islands Developing States Conference in August 2014 the Cook Islands Government publicly committed to switch to 100% renewable energy by the year 2025. At the University of South Pacific 3rd Forum on Climate Change, held on 17th February 2015, a government spokesman indicated that the Cook Islands government project to achieve this was progressing well. Logic therefore dictates that in the next 10 years, demand for fuel will decrease rather than increase. Changing the arrangements of fuel importation in order to increase supply by using bigger tankers is therefore inconsistent with Cook Islands Government current policy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and substitute clean, renewable energy and therefore I object to the proposed project and suggest that the proponent instead replaces the existing pipeline as set out on page 12 Section 2.4 Alternatives Considered.

Public Consultations

The Appendix to Version 2 refers to the need to record and add as appendix any public consultation with the landowners of Areanu in the Nikao Tapere. Typically at a public consultation in Rarotonga, a meeting is advertised and interested parties who attend are given copies of the proposal by way of information while the project applicant/client makes explanations and answers questions. But the public consultations should have been open to the wider public because the impact of any accident resulting in oil leakage will be much wider than on the landowners of Areanu, Nikao. Furthermore, the landowners do not own the waters where the proposed mooring would be sited; instead ownership below 30 metres from the Mean High-Water Mark is vested in the Crown. It is the duty of the Crown to protect all its citizens from any impacts from this project, not just the landowners of Areanu and I call upon the Cook Islands Government, through its National Environment Service, to protect human health and the environment by ensuring prior, informed consent of the wider Te-Au-o-Tonga community.

Containment of Any Oil Leaks During Proposed Operations

The proponent’s EIA at page 6 mentions that there was a pipeline installed by Mobil in the 1960’s which was removed in the 1980’s after the Avatiu Port was upgraded. They did not specify the reason why this old pipeline was discontinued, but I believe it was considered an unnecessary risk, since after the upgrade tankers could berth at Avatiu Harbour. If there were an accidental leak from a tanker berthed at Avatiu Harbour, it would be easier to contain it and I can remember practice runs to deal with a spill emergencyh using deployment of woollen “booms” . The offshore mooring proposal means that any leakage spread easily over a wide area, reducing the efficacy of so called “booms” to contain any such leakage. A picture from the grounding of the container ship “MV Rena” in the Bay of Plenty, NZ is an example of what could happen in Rarotonga.

Oil slick MV Rena – 2011, NZ

Risk Assessment vs. Hazard Assessment

My understanding is that any consideration of risk has to be linked to a probability and direct consequences as a result of that probability. While one could argue that the probability of an accident resulting in an oil spill could be calculated as low, if such a spill then occurred the the hazard would widespread and a great burden on a Small Island Developing State.

If the 1992 Rio Earth Summit principles are considered in the Environment Impact Assessment then a number of principles come into play e.g. a precautionary approach to potential hazards; polluter pays for remediation; full internalization of costs if an accident lshould arise. If the proponent and the consultant that prepared the EIA take these principles into consideration, then it is clearly cheaper for them to replace the existing pipeline than to proceed with the proposed project.

Extent of toxic oil sludge from MV Rena – 2011, NZ

The photograph above shows how far along the coast the pollution from the container ship MV Rena spread. Three years later, NZ authorities are counting the cost of clean-up – given the length of time that other merchant ships have remained on the reef at Avatiu after grounding because of human error, I think that Cook Islanders and their environment will be exposed to a needless degree of hazard, which could be avoided if this proposed project did not go ahead.

International Standards & Best Industry Practices

The New Zealand Transport Accident Inquiry Commission2 or “TAIC” concluded in its report on the grounding of the MV Rena in 2011 that a key finding was that “ship’s crews should comply with mandatory requirements and recommended best industry practices for passage planning, navigation and watchkeeping if similar groundings and other equally catastrophic maritime casualties are to be avoided”. I am concerned that the Environmental Management Program (“EMP”) does not make reference to “best industry practices” but merely refers to relevant NZ and Australian standards.

A further finding by the TAIC was that “countries’ maritime education, training and certification systems must be capable of meeting the standards required by the STCW Convention3 to ensure that seafarers emerging from the system are trained to an appropriate standard.” . These training and operational standards are important, particularly when transnational companies are involved, because in the absence of local standards then the international standards under the International Maritime Organization can be used. I noticed that Fuel Committee established in September 2013 after Cabinet consideration did not include a representative from Maritime Cook Islands. In the 1980s’, it was the Waterfront Commission (later renamed Maritime Cook Islands) that undertook the training and response measures through simulated emergencies, so the omission is very noticeable.


Petrocean Environmental Management Plan Submitted After Approval by Reviewer

It is concerning that the EIA appears to have been reviewed by the same person who prepare the the Petrocean Environmental Management Plan (“EMP”). The Petrocean EMP was submitted in August 2014, AFTER approval by the reviewer (Mr Fereti Felipe) in July 2014. This means that the reviewer was not independent, but instead prepared both the approval to submit the project AND the EMP.

Further reason for concern is that Mr Felipe is a former employer of Mobil Oil, who has set up a company in New Zealand called Envirocare & Engineering Consult Limited (“EECL”). There appear to be only two shareholders, himself and his wife. It is very unusual for a professional engineer to try to limit their liability by operating a limited company i.e. EECL.

Typically a professional engineer (including environmental engineers) belongs to a professional organization of engineers, and acts in their personal capcity, citing their professional qualifications and professional membership after their name. While they often set up a limited company for the day-to-day running of their business, it is understood that they are personally liable if their professional advice is relied upon which results in harm or damage. This usually means that any evaluations or assessments produced are carefully-considered, and point out any gaps in the Terms of Reference that a professional might be expected to recognize as a way to limit the scope of their considerations.

Applicable Standards during Construction, Commissioning & Operation:

The EMP seems to shift the onus of enforcement during construction and commissioning to the Cook Islands National Environment Service – and yet as a transnational corporation it should be aware of the requirements of international law.

At page 10 of the EMP, Section 6.1 there is a checklist of Environmental Issues and Impacts.

It is very noticeable that there are no references to impacts on the marine life, or in reference to possible oil spills during the commissioning or during operations. In 2006, the USEPA acknowledged that oil spills and other contamination from onshore sources can pollute and harm coral and marine life, and that “delicate coral reef ecosystems and all marine species are easily harmed by oil spills that could be prevented with the proper containment.”4. The American Samoa Port Authority was required to develop “comprehensive oil spill prevention and control plans”.


In the interests of time, I have kept my objections to what I consider to be the more obvious gaps and deficiencies in the EIA for this proposed project. I believe that, at the very least, the Cook Islands Government, through the National Environment Service, should seek a proper independent evaluation of the Environmental Impact Assessment from a mainstream consultant. Tourism provides more than 50% of our GNP, and it is hoped that more cruise ships will call at Rarotonga . The objective of the bringing low fossil-fuel prices to consumers in the short-term may come at enormous long-term cost to tourism. Imagine the fall in revenues if an oil spill caused massive degradation of the coastline, at the very spot where most tourist cruises land.

The bottom line is that the Cook Islands is on a path to cleaner, renewable energy and will in the future be importing less carbon-based fuels. It seems to be only commonsense that we do not expose ourselves to the hazards of this mode of importation, but instead require the proponent to replace its existing oil supply pipeline.

Submitted by: Imogen P. INGRAM

1Cook Islands Herald, 4th June 2010 “Pacific Petroleum take over JUHI”

2Marine Inquiry 11-204 Container Ship MV Rena grounding on Astrolabe Reef, 5 October 2011” – Report November 2014 by NZ Transport Accident Inquiry Commission (see

3The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (or STCW), 1978 under the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships STCW was adopted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, and entered into force in 1984. By 2014, the STCW accounted for 99% of global shipping tonnage.

4American Samoa settles violations of oil spill prevention law” USEPA Report 15th May 2006