The common thread running through all of this is China and the implicit demands it is placing on nations that benefit from trading with it. But while these broad-brush ideas are satisfying, sometimes we neglect the details, where the Devil resides.
Take the name Cosco, which has appeared in almost all the dispatches about the Shen Neng 1 since it was grounded 10 days ago. The ship is owned by Shenzhen Energy Transport. Cosco’s only affiliation is part ownership in the company that manages the vessel — that is, not an owner at all.
But the symbolic neatness of having Cosco be the erring party was too sweet. Cosco, a state-owned giant, is a corollary for Chinese shipping power. Journalists had time to sort out the details, but why bother with inconvenient fact when hamfisted metaphor will do?
A little perspective is needed, too, on the charges of recklessness in navigation, which are still under investigation. Whatever the outcome, it was one vessel in one particular circumstance, not a symbol of universal disregard or imperilment by China — which has since apologised — of a natural wonder.
Australia, laudably, understands the value and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, and its citizens treasure this resource. But the reef itself has long been vulnerable to problems hampering pilotage. The piloting system was described by Australasian Marine Pilots Institute president Peter Liley as a flawed model.
The model was introduced in 1993 during a time, according to Capt Liley, “when economic rationalism was in its heyday and competition was thought to be a panacea to all our ills”. But the competitive structure that evolved does not lend itself to transparency, supervision or control, nor does it promote a culture of safety.
Truly protecting the reef will involve a considered look at all the problems, and less reliance on easy finger pointing.
I could not agree more. It was time someone came forward and said, “do not feed the hype, please.”