Sonya is a social issues reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Astrolabe open for fishing and diving

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The Rena wreck is no longer a hazard to navigation or a hazardous ship. Photo/File
The Rena wreck is no longer a hazard to navigation or a hazardous ship. Photo/File

Fishing and diving at Astrolabe Reef (Otaiti) can resume today as the Rena wreck is no longer considered a hazard to navigation.

The Bay of Plenty Harbour Master has amended the exclusion zone to provide access for vessels under 500 tonnes from 8am today in response to the Rena's clean-up operations concluding yesterday.

Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch has withdrawn the notices that declared the wreck a hazard to navigation and a hazardous ship.

"Significant effort has gone into salvage and safe removal of harmful substances. While some oil remains trapped in the wreckage of the vessel, most of the harmful substances contained within the ship have been discharged into the sea and have either been removed or have been, and will continue to be, monitored under the plan provided for under the resource consent."

The lifting of the exclusion zone around Otaiti has angered Motiti Island's Ngai Te Hapu, who are appealing the consent granted in February to "dump" the remains of the Rena wreck on the reef.

Ngai Te Hapu spokesman Buddy Mikaere said the group would be lodging an urgent appeal against the lifting of the exclusion zone with the Waitangi Tribunal.

"Ngai Te Hapu wishes to make it very clear that we oppose entirely the withdrawal of the notices and wish them to remain in place until the question of the creation of a marine reserve has been decided, the application for registration of Otaiti as a wahi tapu has been completed, and the appeals against the decision of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to grant consent to dump the wreck of the Rena on our taonga reef have been heard and decided."

Mr Mikaere said opening the reef back up to fishing and diving operations would have a big impact on its recovering resources.

A statement released by the Rena's owners, Daina Shipping Co, and their insurers, The Swedish Club, said New Zealand Diving and Salvage had completed salvage and recovery works at the reef and more than half a billion New Zealand dollars had been paid towards covering the response effort and the salvage, recovery and clean-up operations.

An access plan had been put in place prior to public access being restored, which included the launch of an Astrolabe Reef website providing information on travelling to the reef, and fishing, diving and snorkelling at the reef.

The volunteer Maketu Coastguard team has been funded to be an on site advisor at the reef for the initial period of its re-opening.

Nevan Lancaster, Rena Business Compensation Group spokesman, said it was sad that the only chance of something positive coming from the Rena, the restoration of marine life at the reef through the establishment of a marine reserve, was now being lost.

Russ Hawkins, Mount Maunganui Underwater Club captain and owner of Fat Boy Charters, said he was happy with the lifting of the exclusion and he hoped he could get out there this week.

Mr Hawkins said access to the reef was limited by weather conditions, which had stopped overfishing at the reef pre-Rena.

Modern attitudes to sustainable fishing and the increasing number of divers choosing photography of marine life over spearing fish would prevent any plundering of the reef.

Spokesman for the ship's owner and insurer Hugo Shanahan cited passages from the decision to grant consent to dump the Rena, which outlined that if the appeal to leave the wreck were successful, there was no guarantee the wreck would be removed and could lead to extensive litigation through the justice system.

***

In February, a temporary two-year closure application was filed by Motiti Rohe Moana Trust with the Minster of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy.

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesperson said the application had received more than 250 submissions.

"Due process requires that the trust provides feedback to MPI on the submissions received before preparing final advice for the Minister so he can make a final decision.

"MPI has consistently advised the trust that it's unlikely the information will be ready for a decision to be made before the exclusion zone is lifted [today]. It will be made as soon as possible."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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