New Zealand MPs were issued a no-fly order Tuesday, just days before a general election, in a bid to minimise fallout from an industrial accident that has crippled the country’s largest airport.
With Auckland airport struggling to cope after a broken pipeline cut its jet fuel supplies by 70 percent, Prime Minister Bill English said his government had swung into action.
“We’re taking the issue very seriously… we’re working to minimise disruption,” he told reporters.
A pipeline breach, apparently caused by an errant digger working on a rural property, has forced the cancellation of dozens of flights since Sunday, with knock-on effects across the country.
The refinery pipeline will not be fixed until next week, raising fears motorists could also face fuel shortages amid reports some Auckland service stations were already running out of petrol.
English said military trucks and a naval tanker had been assigned to transport fuel around the country and help ensure supplies for motorists were maintained.
And in a major embarrassment for the government, he ordered his MPs to avoid flying ahead of Saturday’s election to reduce stress on air transport services, with public servants receiving similar instructions.
English denied the ban would hamstring government MPs from campaigning effectively during the final days of the cliffhanger polls.
“Most of our ministers and MPs are in their electorates, I’ve advised them not to do any unnecessary travel,” he told reporters. “They should be in their electorates campaigning (anyway).”
Opposition Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern said the pipeline was an important piece of infrastructure that should never have been left so vulnerable to an accident.
“Work should have been done to make sure we were more resilient than this,” she told reporters.
“One pipeline, one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt.”
Z Energy said 13 Auckland service stations were out of premium unleaded petrol on Tuesday afternoon but stocks of lower grade fuel and diesel were normal.
“There’s no reason for panic buying, the oil companies have been pretty clear about that,” English said.
“The provision of petrol and diesel for trucks and cars is secure and ongoing.”
Whether the fuel crisis will have an impact on New Zealand’s election remains unclear.
Polls put National and Labour neck-and-neck but it has been a volatile campaign marked by sudden shifts in voter sentiment.
Ardern, who on Tuesday revealed that her grandmother had died the previous night, gave Labour a huge boost when she took over as leader last month.
But English has clawed his way back by portraying his 37-year-old rival as inexperienced and saying only he could be trusted to run the country.
Now Ardern has questioned English’s competency, saying his government was warned about the risks surrounding the pipeline in 2012 but failed to act.
© Agence France-Presse