Black Tide in Bay of Plenty – M/V Rena

10 February 2012 – 11.00 AM Good progress continues to be made on container salvage operations. However, this is slow, labor-intensive work that involves the cutting and grinding of containers and removal of the contents by hand. This means an average of one container and its contents are being removed per day. To date, 479 containers have been removed from Rena, with an additional 70 recovered from the water.

On January 7, severe weather broke MSC M/V Rena in two with the bow section firmly wedged on the reef. By January 10, the stern section stayed perched on the edge of the Astrolabe Reef with about 95% submerged, including the bridge, and a few days later slid off the reef and submerged totally. Aerial observation flights confirmed on January 12 a dark metallic sheen of around 600m by 200m within a larger lighter sheen stretching for about ten kms from the wreck. Observers noted these patches of oil appeared to be breaking down naturally in the swells and churning seas. The oil trajectory modelling predicted it was likely to reach beaches at Little Waihi and Pukehina that said, these modelling predictions change with the currents and weather conditions.

Three months earlier, on October 5, 2011 at 02:20, the M/V Rena struck the Astrolabe Reef whilst sailing from the New Zealand’s North Island port city of Napier to Tauranga. Onboard the stricken vessel was 1,368 containers of which twenty contained hazardous materials such as cryolite, a toxic chemical used as a pesticide, insecticide etc. and is a colorless material that disappears in water due to the proximity of their refractive indices. The M/V Rena also was carrying 1,700 tons heavy fuel-oil and over 200 tons of marine diesel fuel. The initial accident revealed that the vessel had sustained significant damage with large cracks in the hull that eventually split the vessel in two.

The weather in early October continued to hamper rescue and oil spill clean-up operations and a large, approx. five km, oil slick was visible. Six days later, on October 11, New Zealand’s Minister for the Environment and Minister Responsible for Climate Change Issues, Hon. Dr. Nick Smith declared the M/V Rena to be New Zealand’s worst ever maritime environment disaster. On January 8, the vessel split in two, leaving a separation distance of approx. 30 meters between the fore and aft of the vessel, the water surrounding was murky due to powder milk being spilled from a container.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), formerly Maritime Safety Authority, is the lead agency for the coordination of clean-up efforts and salvage in the M/V Rena grounding and subsequent spill. Overall MNZ’s responsibilities include maritime safety, security and marine environment protection for the country.

MNZ alerted all rescue, salvage and clean-up operators in the area including the New Zealand Defence Forces. Support also came from Australia (AMSA) and Singapore to name a few. Lamor was the only oil spill equipment supplier on-scene in Tauranga to assist MNZ and the many outside agencies that responded to this incident.

Lamor’s VP Global Business, Steve Reilly, was on scene and filed this report:

”We were there soon after it happened and worked with the various responders on the water in Tauranga harbor and in the staging areas to ensure all the Lamor equipment and vessels were ready to go. The weather was very difficult for the first week and the response was focused on  several key areas and along the beautiful beaches of Bay of Plenty. Two of the Lamor JBF 420 vessels that MNZ acquired several years ago were in great condition and worked mostly in the harbor area every day.” (READ FULL ARTICLE IN NEWSREEL 1/2012)