The salvage companies responsible for the Rena wreck have finished and the ship's remains will lie on Astrolabe Reef over much of winter as a search begins for new contractors to complete the job.
Salvage companies Svitzer and Smit, which have so far been responsible for the wreck's removal, have completed their contract and will leave the Bay of Plenty this weekend - taking with them their tug boats, crane barges, equipment and crews.
A tender process has started for contractors to take up the second phase of the salvage - final removal of the hull from the reef - but until that tender is resolved, the Rena will be left alone to face the winter seas. Eighteen containers are still on the wreck.
Following inquiries from the Bay of Plenty Times, a spokesman for the owners and insurers said planning had started for the next phase of the salvage operation after the joint venture between salvors Svitzer and Smit to remove all accessible containers was completed a month ahead of schedule.
He said the phase of the wreck recovery would likely begin in August, subject to weather conditions, after the "possible extreme weather conditions over the winter months".
The crane barge Smit Borneo and the Svitzer-owned tug Singapore are now in port, away from the wreck, and preparing to leave for Singapore.
The tug, which would tow the crane barge, is scheduled on the Port of Tauranga website to leave the area on Saturday at 9.33pm.
But the boats may not leave the Bay because they have been taken off-hire over the next few days to gauge interest from those tendering for next stage of the wreck removal.
The last of the operational salvors were demobilised yesterday.
The spokesman said a small team of administrators would be all that remained of the Svitzer/Smit joint venture, to close local sub-contracts and to organise the return of hired equipment to Australia and the Netherlands.
Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch said the owners and insurers had "for some time" indicated a new contract would be put out for tender when the time came for the removal of the physical wreck.
"That point has now been reached ... [But] it is not clear at this stage how long the tender process will take.
"In the meantime, the owners have indicated that Braemar Howells will remain contracted to the owner to undertake container and debris recovery and monitor the wreck site," he said.
Braemar Howells spokesman Grant Dyson said the company, so far responsible only for container and debris recovery, will be taking on increased duties patrolling the exclusion zone.
"Our role has expanded significantly. We're [now] overseeing the wreck's safety and security.
"We're entering a transition, moving towards wreck removal. Braemar's role in this transitional phase is we've got these additional roles looking after the wreck safety."
But as far as the actual removal of the physical wreck on the reef, he said: "We're not going to be [doing that sort of] a salvage job on what's remaining."
The removal of the wreck must wait until the new salvors are appointed at the conclusion of the tender process, which is expected to close at the end of the month. The current halt to the salvage clean-up would have an impact on local Svitzer sub-contracted crews aboard the Smit Borneo and the tug Singapore.
One of the crew members, who spoke on condition he was not identified, told the Bay of Plenty Times his major concern with the break between salvors being appointed was the bow would sink.
"Now that they've got the main part of the cargo out ... that part [the bow] is moving. It's been moving around, we've noticed it.
"If they get a good northeasterly with a good swell ... it'll be interesting to see what happens," he said.
Mr Manch said the notice for the owners to remove the wreck completely, under the Maritime Act, remained in place and was expected to be fulfilled.
"We share the desire of the local community, and New Zealand as a whole, to have this work completed as soon as possible, and would expect work to resume as soon as practicable after a contractor has been appointed to carry out wreck removal.
"But given the difficulty of the wreck recovery process, and the variability of weather and sea conditions, it is not possible to put a timeframe on completion of the work."