The Liberian-flagged RENA broke into two over the weekend after being grounded for 3 months on Astrolable Reef. Storms on Saturday night causing twenty-foot waves pounded the vessel breaking it in half about 14 miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand.
Maritime New Zealand has been working with salvage crews from Svitzer to remove oil and containers from the vessel since its grounding on October 5th. Salvage work had to be halted several times due to inclement weather in the last few months – but as of January 6th, Svitzer had removed 389 containers and had pumped more than 1,000 tonnes of oil from the vessel.
Oil, debris and a dozen containers have washed ashore, forcing New Zealand police to close the popular Waihi beach out of concern for public safety. On Sunday oil sheen could be seen spreading 2 miles from the broken vessel – the remnants of what was left onboard.
Ninety-eight containers have been washed overboard since the initial grounding and 389 have been removed by salvers, leaving 881 containers onboard when the vessel split. Officials estimate that 200-300 containers from the 775-foot ship fell into the sea when it broke in two. They believe that 80 percent of the containers will sink and the remaining will float; breaking apart and washing ashore. Local authorities say that tons of milk powder has spilled into the sea and washed ashore. Timber is also expected to wash ashore. According to current models, the beaches south of Mt. Maunganui are most likely to be affected.
More than 20 containers onboard the RENA were filled with cryolite, a toxic chemical used as a pesticide and insecticide. Others contained meat, household goods and wine. Some containers were equipped with transponders, which the Navy used to locate containers that might affect operations in the Port of Tauranga. So far, operations in the port have been able to resume as normal. Officials estimate that between 500 and 600 containers remain onboard.
Both sections of the ship remain on the reef about 70- 100-feet away from each other. The stern of the RENA is listing at about 23 degrees and is being thrown around in the swell. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says that “salvers and naval architects are now working to assess the state of the wreck and its stability.” This information will help Svitzer in determining the next step. MNZ also says that it is very likely that the stern will sink.
Weather conditions have prevented salvers from boarding either section of the vessel since its splitting.
Navigational warnings have been issued for vessels travelling in the area to help them avoid new hazards that have fallen from the stricken container ship.
Thousands of birds have been killed and months have been spent cleaning oil from New Zealand’s pristine beaches, since the initial grounding and subsequent oil spill. Maritime New Zealand has also said that nearly a dozen penguins have been affected by the oil.
RENA’s captain and navigation officer, both Philippine nationals, have been charged with operating a vessel in a dangerous manner and releasing toxic substances – the charges carry a maximum fine of NZ$300,000 or two years in prison. The two men are due to appear in court again next month.
The Liberian-flagged ship is owned by Dania Shipping based in Greece and is managed by Ciel Ship Management.