Lifeguards start Rena spill lawsuit

By Kiri Gillespie

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Eighteen months after Rena grounded at Astrolabe Reef, oil is still surfacing on Papamoa shores and lifeguards have revealed they are now taking legal action.

Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club has joined a business group's class action against Rena's owner and insurers The Swedish Club.

Representatives of the Rena Business Compensation Group met with Swedish Club on Thursday night in a closed meeting.

Wayne Larson, Papamoa club captain and chairman of the club's lifeguard committee, said they suffered a "massive hit" when Rena's oil washed up outside their clubhouse in October 2011.

"We sort of consider ourselves ground zero. We were very, very affected but not like a business would be," he said.

"We lost over 100 people from the club that didn't bother registering. All that goes a long way."

This affected uniform sales and money from membership registration through to holding nippers' barbecues and cancelling sports events.

Mr Larson said the club had been growing rapidly each year until they had a "massive hit" with Rena. "We lost a year really, we lost a whole season. There's still oil coming out of the sand - less than it was, but we are still getting mums complaining of oil on their little kids' togs and not coming back."

Mr Larson said this strengthened their resolve that Rena must go. "We are thinking three years down the track, what happens if there's a big weather event and more washes up? It's not a matter of if, it's when. Just walking away from the wreck, we are not happy about that."

Rena Business Compensation Group spokesman Nevan Lancaster said he was pleased the group was finally able to meet with The Swedish Club. He said they made progress and he looked forward to further discussion in the future.

Members of the group, like many members of Tauranga iwi, want total removal of Rena from the reef. However, Motiti Island resident Aubrey Hoete has done an about-turn by revealing his support for leaving the wreck where it lies. He said Rena was an accident waiting to happen.

"When I was a young lad, I would gallop my pony to the northern end of the island to watch the ships sail by. The wreck should be left in a safe environmental position.

"This also requires time and effort and a lot of physical, dangerous work by human beings."

Captain John Owen, senior claims manager for Rena insurer The Swedish Club, said the meeting was an opportunity to inform and update business owners on the New Zealand Limitations fund and how it would work in the future.

The fund would eventually be available to any third party who had a claim for loss or damage as a result of the grounding.

He said he was upfront that the process had taken time - but said he could not look back.

"We're now in a position to be able to do something here - and are committed to working and communicating directly with this group to address claims as best and as soon as we can."

There would be a follow-up meeting with representatives of the group before he left New Zealand. "This isn't fresh oil coming from the wreck, but broken down remains of what was sunk to the sea floor.

"These are mostly small tar balls that will continue to work their way out of the environment over time, particularly after major weather events. And there is an onshore debris management team in place to continue to work with groups including the Surf Life Saving Clubs to help respond to these events."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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