Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Promise to remove Rena if Labour elected

Labour would ensure the owners of the Rena would fully remove the wrecked containership if elected.

Making the announcement in Tauranga today, leader David Cunliffe said a Labour Government would order that the whole wreck be taken off the Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty.

It comes after the ship's owners and insurers recently confirmed they would seek resource consent to leave much of the wreck on the reef.

The company expected the application, likely to be directly referred to the Environment Court, would be lodged between the end of this month and May.

Bay of Plenty iwi, along with Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby, have voiced their opposition to the idea.

Mr Cunliffe said the decision to seek permission to leave part of the wreck was an "insult" to Bay of Plenty people and to the environment.

"Daina Shipping must be made to clean up the wreckage and pay for the cost of doing so," he said.

"A Labour government will clean the reef up. We will make the Rena's owner pay through any means possible."

It has been suggested that removing the entire wreck could take a decade.

The owners, who have spent $350 million since the Rena grounded in October 2011, also argue that doing so would be a highly dangerous undertaking.

Just getting the wreck to an environmentally benign state had been a challenging task, with two divers already sent to hospital during preparations for removal of the ship's accommodation block.

In 2012, the Government announced a settlement whereby owners Daina Shipping agreed to pay $27.6 million compensation to the Crown and a further $10.4 million if the company applied for and was successfully granted consent to leave part of the wreck behind.

Mr Cunliffe said the offer "must look attractive" and questioned whether it was the Government or Daina Shipping that floated the idea.

"Simon Bridges said that in an 'ideal world' the Rena would be removed completely. Labour will make that ideal world a reality."

When asked how an elected Labour Government would address settlements that had already been signed between the parties, Mr Cunliffe said legal advice would be needed to check on any contractual obligations.

"My understand that the decision ultimately still remains with the New Zealand government, as to whether that wreck remains on that reef."

The announcement follows a challenge by a tiny hapu on Motiti Island, near the wreck site, for the terms of the settlement to be made public.

The Waitangi Tribunal, considering a claim by Ngai Te Hapu, had asked for submissions on whether the settlement deeds should be disclosed.

Meanwhile, underwater cutting work to remove the accomodation block of the ship began at the wreck site this morning.

It was expected the entire salvage operation, which began after the ship hit the reef in 2011 and is still going, would ultimately cost the owners more than $350 millon.

Between two to three days cutting and lifting were required on the house, and there had been more than 80 days' specialist salvage dive preparations at depths of about 46 metres.

A spokesman for the owners previously said there were misconceptions about the wreck, among them that the reef had been destroyed and that the wreck would continue to cause harmful emissions over time.

- APNZ

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