On Wednesday 5 October at 2:20am the 37000 tonne cargo ship MV Rena grounded on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) in Bay of Plenty. Maritime New Zealand declared a tier 3 response, and mobilised the National Response Team for oil spill response. The MV Rena had 1368 containers and approximately 1700 tonnes of oil on board.

In the course of the first month salvage company Svitzer worked around the clock to remove oil, however severe weather caused some oil to spill from the wreck and wash up on local beaches. Volunteers, the New Zealand Army and other trained responders spent days cleaning up oil from beaches. More than 1000 dead birds were found and 300 birds (mainly little blue penguins) were rescued and taken to the wildlife oil spill response facility.

Eighty eight containers were lost overboard and containers and debris washed up on beaches. Container recovery company, Braemar Howells, contracted by the owner, collected containers and debris from shorelines and in the ocean. Eleven containers were identified as containing hazardous goods.

Local iwi supported the efforts to clean-up coastlines. An exclusion zone was set around Otaiti (Astrolabe reef), beaches closed to the public and people were warned against eating kaimoana (seafood).

Follow the link below to read details of the events through October:

October 2011 Daily Reports >>

Bad weather continued to affect salvage efforts to pump oil from MV Rena. High sea swells further damaged the hull, however the ship remained in one piece. When weather allowed, salvors pumped oil from MV Rena to the oil tanker Awanuia. By 13 November, almost all the bulk heavy fuel oil had been removed from the ship.

The crane barge Sea Tow 60 from Australia began to remove containers from MV Rena. By the end of November, 166 containers were removed and more than 200 transponders fitted to containers. Sonar searches were carried out on the sea bed to locate containers lost overboard in the October storm.

Mediterranean Shipping Company insurers advised Maritime New Zealand that were a further 21 containers containing hazardous goods on board the ship. They contain cryolite, a by-product of the aluminium smelting process which is considered to be low risk unless ingested or inhaled directly in its powdered form.

These containers were submerged below decks in the vessel’s holds. Clean-up operations around the coastal Bay of Plenty continued with more than 4000 people taking part in beach clean-ups since the official volunteer coordination programme began.

The first major release of wildlife took place with 49 little blue penguins released back to their natural habitat.

Rough weather and strong swells in early December saw around half a tonne of weathered oil leak from MV Rena. The oil leaked from the duct keel, which is a system of pipes running along the bottom of the ship.

There was no significant change in movement however the vessel remained in a fragile state. The work environment was hazardous, with safety the number one priority for salvors.

Salvage and container recovery continued throughout the Christmas and New Year break. There were no organised beach clean-ups during the festive period however daily patrols of beaches were carried out and wildlife support teams remained on standby.

The Smit Borneo arrived from Singapore and had a 180 tonne “crawler” crane installed to be used for lifting salvors out to containers on MV Rena. The crane had a greater reach than the Sea Tow 60 so salvors were able to get to containers that were previously out of their reach. The total number of containers removed from MV Rena was now 341.

The staged release of wildlife continued with 15 dotterels released at Maketu and more little blue penguins also released.

Large swells and high wind in early January caused further damage to MV Rena. The stern of the vessel broke away from the bow section and on 10 January, the stern section partially sank, although it was still resting on the reef.

At least 49 containers were identified floating in the sea when the vessel split in two; 25 of which washed ashore. Container retrieval company Braemar Howells continued to pick up container debris between Waihi Beach and Maketu – comprising mainly plastic beads, milk powder and some meat products.

At the end of January 497 containers had been processed on shore – 441 had been lifted off the wreck by salvors and 56 had been collected at sea or from beaches by Braemar Howells.

A three nautical mile exclusion zone remained in place around MV Rena, as did a 1,500 foot vertical air exclusion zone.

Beach patrols were continued, with Mount Maunganui to Clyde Street appearing relatively free of oil. Contractors continued to work in the Papamoa Beach area collecting oil. Community meetings, media briefings and hui continued throughout the month. A total of 1020 tonnes of waste had been collected to date.

Helicopters were still being used to help with taking cargo and containers from MV Rena. Salvors continued to focus on removing cargo from the refrigerated containers on the bow section of MV Rena and emptying the holds in the stern section.

Salvors continued to strip all the oil they could from the wreck and in early February they managed to extract a further 10.3 cubic metres of fuel from the engine room port side slop tank in the stern of the wreck, using the ‘hot tapping technique’.

Blue twine – enough to fill two skips – was collected from the ocean between Waihi Beach and Mayor Island on 19 February. Meanwhile, beach team members collected foam from refrigerated containers between Mount Maunganui main beach and Papamoa Domain. Barges were also used during this time to transport 119 bulk bags of lamb that were moved from the MV Rena and sent straight to landfills. Sonar sweeps of the seabed continued also.

By the end of February, 71 containers had been recovered from the sea and beaches by Braemar Howells, including a container removed from a cliff face at Mataroa Bay, north of Waihi Beach. It took 74 helicopter lifts to clear the container and its timber contents from the bay to a waiting barge. The container was cut in to pieces so it could be moved.

The wildlife team stood down on 24 February; however local wildlife experts and the Department of Conservation were available to respond to reports of affected animals, and the team at Massey University were ready to treat and rehabilitate any affected wildlife. The National Oiled Wildlife Response Team also remained on standby to escalate the response if required.

Salvage operations continued to be affected by weather conditions. A storm hit the North Island in early March and brought heavy seas to the Bay of Plenty with wind gusts of up to 50 knots and sea swells of more than 5 metres.

MV Rena suffered further deterioration of its stern and forward section after Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) was hammered by swells of up to six metres overnight on 21 March.  The bad weather damaged the bulkheads at the front of the stern section and caused further structural damage on the forward section, and also resulted in some containers and debris going into the sea and reaching shorelines around the wider Bay of Plenty.

A small amount of oil leaked from MV Rena as a result of the bad weather, and while some of this reached the shoreline, it did not have a significant impact. The oil spill response team closely monitored the situation.

Container and debris recovery teams recovered small amounts of debris from Tuapiro Point, near Katikati, Waihi Beach and Onemana Bay, north of Whangamata. Vessels were also sent to Motiti Island to recover debris, mainly packaged milk powder and timber.

Salvage operations continued as weather conditions allowed. The aft section of the MV Rena sank on 4 April after rough seas pounded the weakened structure – a wave of more than 12 metres was recorded at the reef overnight on 3 April.

Bay of Plenty and Coromandel communities were advised that the sinking of the stern section would likely result in more debris and small amounts of oil in the sea. The forward section of the vessel held on the reef but suffered further damage to its rear section.

Strong winds and rough seas continued to affect on-water debris recovery operations. Maritime New Zealand’s oil spill response team and specialist container recovery teams and vessels from Braemar Howells remained on alert to respond to any further reports of oil or debris coming ashore.

In total 683 containers were removed from MV Rena and the shore and water. About 240 containers were estimated to remain below decks on the forward section of MV Rena.

Excellent progress was made on container removal from the wreck site. Dive teams also removed a significant amount of cargo and debris from the stern section of the wreck and the seabed.

The total number of containers removed went above 800, with a total of 815 of the 1368 containers brought to port.

Debris clean ups continued across the Bay of Plenty with most of the bigger debris removed from Coromandel and Bay of Plenty shorelines the cleanup operations were mainly focused on bead recovery.

The oil spill response was reduced from a Tier 3, or national level to Tier 2, or regional level response. Bay of Plenty Regional Council was given responsibility for ongoing monitoring and f

The Te Mauri Moana Tertiary partnership group began the next round of sampling and monitoring to measure the long term environmental effects. The salvage operations reached a new stage with the completion of container removal from the stern section. All accessible containers were removed from the stern. The Smit/Svitzer joint venture completed their contract one month ahead of schedule.

Braemar Howells, responsible for retrieving lost containers and removing debris, took on an expanded role to work inside the exclusion zone, overseeing the wreck’s safety and security, monitoring its status day to day, and minimising and clearing any debris.

A total of 944 containers were processed ashore. The owners and insurers of Rena issued a tender for the next stages of the operation, which shifted to wreck removal.

Konstantinos Zacharatos, a representative of the owners of the MV Rena, visited the Bay of Plenty to meet with community leaders and groups affected by the ship’s grounding. Mr Zacharatos said that he had come to recognise and thank the local community for their important role in minimising the consequences of the incident.

Environmental clean-up company Braemar Howells began collecting container scrap from the seabed surrounding the Rena wreck. Sophisticated equipment – a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) with manipulator arms – was used to hook up and move this scrap wreckage. It could operate at varying depths, and was used to pre-rig identified container scrap.

At the beginning of the month Braemar had 140 containers of recovered cargo on the books. They managed to recycle 60 containers out of that – including steel scrap, timber and milk fat. Over one week alone, 41 container-loads of steel scrap had been sent for recycling.

A total of 20 containers were hoisted from the ocean floor, with the number of containers landed and identified up to 968.

The owners and insurers of Rena appointed US Salvors Resolve to undertake the next stage, which involved reduction of the wreck’s bow on Astrolabe Reef.

The Rena’s insurers announced that a series of studies were underway to assess the effects of the Rena wreck options. The studies were shared with the community and the authorities.

Resolve Salvage & Fire began removing sections of the wreck’s bow. The project, which would reduce Rena’s bow section to 1 metre below the mean water line, was expected to be completed early 2013, depending on weather.

With sea conditions too rough for marine operations of late, the Braemar Howells’ Rena clean-up teams focused on shoreline operations. Debris clean-up on Matakana Island and in the Coromandel area continued. During August alone, 3.5 tonnes of debris – primarily small polymer beads – was collected from Coromandel beaches.

About 2,750 tonnes of scrap metal was recycled from the Rena. CMA Recycling at Mount Maunganui was been the recipient of the bulk of the scrap metal. From there it was sent to steel mills in New Zealand and to international foundries for further processing.

Operations to retrieve Rena containers on the seabed continued, bringing the total number of containers recovered up to 986.

Resolve Salvage and Fire continued with wreck reduction operations. High winds and rough seas resulted in approximately 25m of the fore section, weighing around 250 tonnes, being ripped free from the aft portside and falling to the sea bed.

This section included the boat landing platform and access ladder, with gas cutting equipment also going overboard.

The Rena Recovery Monitoring Programme sampled along the coastline focusing on shellfish as a key indicator for the presence of toxins. The retrieval of container scrap brought the number of Rena containers recovered up to 999.

The New Zealand Government and Daina Shipping Company (owner of the MV Rena) reached a comprehensive financial settlement in respect of matters arising from the ship’s grounding. Maritime New Zealand announced the commencement of an independent review to the grounding of the Rena, MNZ’s response and establish the factors that contributed to, or limited, its effectiveness.

Rena Recovery announced the first sampling results. Data collected from more than 30,000 samples showed that levels of PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) from Rena oil appeared to have dissipated in most areas in the Bay of Plenty. However scientists said there was still a significant amount of work to be done before any final conclusions on long-term environmental impacts could be made; this included more sample information to be collected from Astrolabe Reef (Otaiti).

Fifteen students received scholarships to take part in the monitoring programme for Rena Recovery. The student programmes included one PhD, seven Masters of Science and seven summer school internships.

Work continued at the wreck site to reduce the bow section of the wreck. Braemar Howells continued to monitor shorelines for debris and manage clean-up operations as needed.

Te Mauri Moana Iwi Leaders Forum was held at Tutereinga Marae in Te Puna on 22 November. Iwi received an update from Rena Recovery Manager Catherine Taylor, Resolve Salvage & Fire and Braemar Howells.

The Monitoring Programme was well underway with students starting their summer research projects. A survey was conducted along the shorelines of Tauranga Harbour, Mauao, Omanu, Papamoa and Motuotau (Rabbit Island) to measure the visibility of oil spots. Oil spots that were found were weathered and breaking down well as expected. The exclusion zone around Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) remained in place.

Resolve Salvage & Fire brought in specialised underwater equipment to step-up the recovery of debris between and around the wreck, covering an approximate area up to 10,000 square metres. They also continued with reducing the bow section of the wreck. 60 tonnes of scrap metal from the debris field has been taken ashore for processing. Resolve also continues to carry out detailed dive surveys of the debris field.

Unpredictable conditions around the reef continued to affect the recovery operation. Where poor weather prevented Resolve from working on the bow, they were able to focus on retrieving metallic scrap and debris from damaged containers and the vessel itself.

Environmental management specialists, Braemar Howells, continues to recover any remaining flotsam that washes up on the shoreline. The exclusion zone around the reef remains in place.