Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Controversial Wreck of Container Ship Now Declared Safe

Four and Half Years of Salvage Finally Ends
Shipping News Feature
NEW ZEALAND – The remains of the ill-fated container vessel MV Rena wreck in place on Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef, is no longer classed as a hazard to navigation after the Director of Maritime NZ withdrew two statutory notices that had required the owners of the vessel to undertake work to address the navigational hazard and discharge of harmful substances, and keep Maritime NZ appraised of progress being made.

Since grounding on the reef approximately 12 nautical miles off the coast of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, on October 5, 2011, salvage work of the box vessel had been carried out continuously, with an initial focus on collecting oil, contaminants and the recovery of containers, eight of which contained hazardous cargo, and which has latterly switched primarily to debris field removal from the reef itself. More than 22,000 tonnes of debris has been removed from the seabed and in November 2014, the decision had been made to leave what remained after a report stated that it was not feasible to conduct a full removal.

The decision to leave the wreck where she lies may not satisfy many among the native Maori population which, as we detailed in November 2014, were extremely disturbed by the pollution of what is to many of them a highly important cultural site. Maritime NZ Director Keith Manch said that the salvage and clean-up work undertaken since the grounding meant there was now no proper basis for the navigation notices under the Act, adding:

“Significant effort has gone into salvage and safe removal of harmful substances. While some oil remains trapped in the wreckage of the vessel, most of the harmful substances contained within the ship have been discharged into the sea and have either been removed or have been, and will continue to be, monitored under the plan provided for under the resource consent.”

“The information and evidence available to me indicates that all reasonable efforts have been made to remove entanglement hazards and wreckage, where possible. I have concluded that the wreck and remaining debris on the sea floor no longer constitute a hazard to navigation.

The ship ran aground with over 1,650 tonnes of fuel oil plus a cargo of around 1,368 containers, any one of which could in a semi submerged state be the cause of another maritime accident, whilst additionally a variety of cargoes seeped out. Since the ship foundered the event has been described as ‘New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster’.

The wreck occurred after the captain and crew of the Rena deviated from accepted safe practice and raced to beat a lowering tide across the reef. This subsequently led to a trial in which the captain, Mauro Balomaga, and navigation officer, Leonil Relon, pled guilty to a variety of offences including causing unnecessary danger by operating a vessel recklessly, for which they both received seven month prison sentences.

Photo: A diver from the Mount Maunganui Underwater Club passes across the wreck in a survey dive in May 2015. The club believe that leaving the wreck in situ may lead it to be the country’s number one diving attraction. Photography by Dale Hobson.