Half Wrecked Cargo Ship Sinks Off New Zealand Reef

TAURANGA, New Zealand, January 10, 2012 (ENS) – Most of the stern section of the cargo ship Rena has slipped off the Astrolabe Reef and has sunk into the sea off the north end of New Zealand’s North Island. Heavy seas pounded the vessel on the weekend, breaking her in two on Saturday night. The bow section remains in place on the reef despite heaving swells.

On October 5, 2011, the Liberian-flagged ship grounded on the reef about 22 kilometers (14 miles) from Tauranga Harbour, spilling 360 tonnes of oil that fouled the long white beaches of the Bay of Plenty.

The stern section of the Rena begins to sink. (Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand)

Maritime New Zealand, the government agency in charge of response, says most of the remaining oil has been pumped off the damaged ship.

The 236 meter-long Rena is owned by the Greek shipping company Costamare Inc. through one of its subsidiaries, Daina Shipping Co. and was under charter to Mediterranean Shipping at the time of the grounding.

Personnel from Maritime New Zealand and Svitzer Salvage have flown over the incident site to monitor the slow progression of the stern into the sea since it began sinking at 8:30 am today.

Maritime New Zealand Salvage Unit leader Dave Billington said the stern section has been stable since 10 this morning, with about 75 percent underwater, including the bridge.

Some oil, wood debris and two containers were dislodged from the stern section as it went down. One container sank; the other floated and has since been taken in tow by a tug.

Alex van Wijngaarden, Maritime New Zealand National On Scene Commander, said trajectory modeling of the oil released today shows that it is likely to reach Motiti Island this evening, and the Bay of Plenty beach between Maketu and Matata late tomorrow.

Container from the Rena washes up on the beach (Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand)

The National Response Team has been mobilized and booms will be placed to prevent as much oil as possible from reaching sensitive areas along the coast. The volunteer Adopt-A-Beach programme has been reactivated.

Heavy weather and sea conditions at the reef have not allowed salvors to board the stern section. When possible, divers will inspect the hull and assess salvage possibilities. The salvors have equipment at the reef to try and contain any oil escaping from the wreck.

Svitzer Salvage Master Paul van’t Hof says that until the swells subside, it is not possible to assess the condition of the submerged stern section or carry out underwater surveys and plan further salvage operations. “Sensors on the bow section of the Rena show that it is still stable,” he said.

The cargo crane Smit Borneo is still available if it proves possible to resume removal of containers from the Rena, said van’t Hof.

The incident response corporation Braemar Howells has identified 49 containers either floating or beached since the Rena split apart on the weekend. Of those, around 25 are beached as far as 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the ship, and more than 20 containers have washed up on a nearby island. The containers are loaded with timber, paper, plastics and milk powder; none contain hazardous goods, said Braemar Howells Operations Manager Claudene Sharp.

The stern of the Rena sinks further and remains 75 percent submerged. (Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand)

Eleven other pieces of containers are adrift in the sea. Braemar Howells has deployed 13 vessels, ranging from tugs and barges to a fast response vessel, from the Waihi Beach area south to Motiti, said Sharp.

Braemar Howells has activated 11 hubs along the coast, to coordinate the collection of debris, and today, over 140 people are removing debris along the coast.

Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee said today that the government is satisfied that the response is being conducted “very professionally.”

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith said the amount of oil released in the last 24 hours is very small.

Smith said Catherine Taylor, a former director of Maritime New Zealand, has been engaged by the ministry to lead the long-term environmental recovery program, starting on Wednesday.

The ship’s captain and second officer, both Philippine nationals, have been charged with operating a vessel in a dangerous manner and releasing toxic substances. They also face charges of attempting to pervert justice by allegedly altering documents after the grounding. Their names have been withheld by authorities and they are free on bail until their next court appearance on February 29, 2012.

For previous ENS coverage of this incident see:

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