Friday, October 24, 2014
NZ Defence Force assistance to OP Rena, 11 October 2011 (New Zealand Defence Force photograph)

Salvage teams have to try to prevent or limit the environmental damage they might cause, while dealing with uncertain and changing circumstances. A recent and dramatic example is the salvaging of Rena, a container ship which ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef off the Bay of Plenty on 5 October 2011. Thankfully there was no loss of life among the crew of 20, but the resulting oil spill has become New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.

Rena was carrying containers of hazardous materials, as well as tonnes of heavy fuel oil and marine diesel. She spent months stuck on the reef, damaged, moving dangerously in the water and the weather. As she listed, her containers and her contents tipped into the sea, and oil and debris began polluting the water and washing ashore. In January 2012 Rena broke in two, releasing more oil and debris into the water. Finally on 4 April the vessel sank completely. Salvaging teams and the Marine Pollution Response Service responded to the disaster.

Three years later, parts of the wreck remain on the bottom of Astrolabe Reef. Work is still ongoing in what was described as “one of the most lengthy, tricky and costly ship salvage jobs in history" in the NZ Herald on 21 November 2013. Ongoing environmental and cultural issues, particularly in terms of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and long-term solutions for the restoration of the affected areas, are still being discussed.

Damage to Rena, 11 October 2011 (New Zealand Defence Force photograph)
Reserve soldiers from Auckland begin cleaning Papamoa Beach after oil  from the grounded ship Rena reached shore, 11 September 2011  (New Zealand Defence Force photograph)