Alongside a dock at the Port of Tauranga, men in orange overalls are busy preparing for their next battle in New Zealand's biggest salvage operation.

They are employees of US-based Resolve Salvage and Fire who, nearly three years after the grounding of the container ship Rena, are still toiling in the catastrophe's aftermath.

Tonnes of equipment and machinery, including a pair of heavy-duty cranes, have been loaded on to a huge barge ahead of the next big job in a salvage operation which has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

All of this gear will be used to clean up the underwater junkyard that today surrounds the sunken, battered container ship. Thousands of tonnes of debris are strewn across the sea floor around the Astrolabe Reef, where the Rena has been undergoing an underwater transformation from ship to scrapheap. "There's absolutely everything down there," said the project's deputy director, Brad Tong.


Amid the tangled mess lie the remains of hundreds of shipping containers, scrap metal, car parts, tyres, aluminium ingots, cardboard, trampoline coils, bags of magnesium oxide and several tonnes of plastic beads.

Between now and Christmas, salvors expect to recover around 4000 tonnes of it. Large chunks, located by divers working at 30-40 metres below the surface, will be hauled from the bottom using large hydraulic grabs.

In a single day, they can expect to retrieve about 50 tonnes of scrap, in loads as large as 6 tonnes at a time.

Once back at port, the debris will be destined for recycling or landfill.

Over the past 17 days, the same barge that was used to carve the Rena's towering accommodation block into pieces has been converted for the new task. Mr Tong expected to put it into action by next week.

"Conceptually, it's been in the making for a long time, and now it's about putting it all together quickly."

Yesterday, salvors were putting the last touches to the 91m-long RMG 1000 and transferring hefty mooring equipment that would hold it in place.

Its 25-strong crew worked at the mercy of swell conditions.

Mr Tong said each job came with its own hurdles to overcome.

"It's challenging ... but it's not unbeatable," Mr Tong said.

A ruling on the Waitangi Tribunal Hearing regarding the Government's handling of the Rena disaster is expected today. The hearing was urgently requested by Motiti Island iwi and was held at Trinity Wharf Hotel at the start of this month