Battle looms over plans to leave Rena

By Kiri Gillespie


Rena's owner and insurer faces a fight from local iwi over a proposal to leave the ship's remains on Astrolabe Reef.

But one fishing charter operator and diver supports the plan, saying leaving the wreck at sea would attract and nurture marine life.

The reaction follows the Swedish Club announcing it would seek resource consent to leave the wreck at sea, as long as it was safe for the public and supported the reef's future regeneration.

Captain John Owen, of the Swedish Club, said the proposal followed more than 16 months of salvage operations, costing more than $275 million, including technical assessments on the options for full and partial wreck removal.

Mr Owen said full wreck removal would considerably extend the period of the exclusion zone, involve greater destruction of the reef and present risks to workers in volatile and dangerous conditions.

The wreck would not pose a hazard to navigation and should not be a threat to the marine environment, so the further costs and risks associated with trying to remove it were not considered to be warranted, Mr Owen said.

But Motiti Island resident Rangi Butler said leaving Rena at sea was not an option for iwi.

Ms Butler said there was concern about future debris washing ashore from containers believed to be still inside Rena's hull.

"Motiti is not in agreeance with leaving it there, not from day one ... it's not what they said they would do," Ms Butler said.

"The Maritime New Zealand order is for full wreck removal, and it can be removed. That is still our stance."

Ms Butler said the reef, known to Maori as Otaiti, had cultural and spiritual significance for iwi in and around the Bay of Plenty.

She said there would be strong iwi opposition to the proposal at planned community consultation meetings.

"They will have a fight on their hands," she said.

Mr Owen said the owners would seek further community feedback - including from local iwi and hapu, before a final decision was made.

Master mariner and representative for TMC Marine Consultants Captain Roger King told the Bay of Plenty Times full wreck removal would be "an immense job".

"We all want to take the stern section away as soon as possible but we are not going to hurt someone in the process to do it," Mr King said.

"Things get harder as things get deeper. Everything increases in size in terms of gear and the risk management becomes harder. Safety management decreases because you are in the marine environment and you can only control a few factors for so long," he said.

It was unlikely any floating debris remained inside the sunken containers, as every container they had found so far had been ruptured, Mr King said.

A large hydraulic claw on a barge collected sunken debris, including wheels, wire, container bits, and aluminium ingots.

Once the debris was removed, scientists were expected to take reef samples which would then be tested for any contaminants.

Fishing charterer and diver Rus Hawkins said he was happy with the proposal.

Mr Hawkins said he would attend one of the consultation meetings to find out more information about the wreck's future but was excited at the possibility of it being left, he said.

"I'm the club captain for the Mount Maunganui Underwater Club and I know, diving-wise, I know we would love to see it there."

Mr Hawkins said such sites attracted and nurtured marine life and became attractive dive and fishing sites.

Mr Owen said the programme for the rest of the year would focus on addressing contaminants, the removal of debris around the wreck and making it a safer environment for recreational diving.

Community consultation open days

Tuesday, February 26, from 4pm to 7pm at Club Mount Maunganui

Thursday, February 28, from 4 to 7pm at the Mount Surf Club




- Bay of Plenty Times

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