Maritime disaster under spotlight

The grounding of the cargo ship Rena off Tauranga in October 2011 and the resulting oil spill has been nothing but a bad news story.

But collaborative research undertaken by the University of Waikato, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and Bay of Plenty Regional Council has offered a much more positive insight into the maritime disaster.

The research focused on understanding the experiences of volunteers who helped remove oil from the coastline. It involved an online survey and qualitative interviews of the volunteers as well as interviews with key individuals who were heavily involved in the clean-up effort.

Dr Rebecca Sargisson from Waikato University’s School of Psychology said the research has already provided valuable insights into what motivates volunteers. It has already been published in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management.

"All of those involved in the research recognised the Rena was a unique opportunity to document and learn about what motivates volunteers," Dr Sargisson says.

She said the team quickly realised that their perspective on the disaster may well have been different to that of other New Zealanders.

"Most people were constantly seeing or reading about the negative impacts of the spill. However, we also saw some positive outcomes," she says.

"For example, it had a major influence on building community spirit. And most volunteers said despite their shock and anger at what had occurred, the experience of volunteering was positive and satisfying."

The research will be used by official agencies to assist with future volunteer planning.

"Nobody would ever want anything like the Rena to happen again. But we will always need volunteers in times of disaster and this research will help agencies mobilise those volunteers effectively."