Containers that have been "smashed to smithereens" on the broken ship Rena are being airlifted off by the most powerful single-engine helicopter in the world.
A Bell 214B helicopter was initially used to ferry equipment to and from the cargo ship after the vessel ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga last October, but was now being used to collect debris from crushed containers.
Svitzer salvage spokesman Matt Watson said the heavy-duty helicopter was playing a lead role in the salvage because fewer containers on the badly damaged bow of the wreck were being found intact.
Full containers could still be lifted off by crane barges, but damaged containers needed to be cut up and the debris airlifted off to the waiting barges.
"As the salvage operation progresses, it's becoming more and more apparent that's it's more of a debris removal operation," Mr Watson said.
"There are still some containers intact but a lot of the containers underneath the deck, they're just smashed to smithereens, and there's just bits and pieces of debris that have to be picked up."
Mr Watson said the Bell 214B helicopter, operated by Australian firm McDermott Aviation, was a "heavy-duty workhorse".
Weighing in at 7272kg and with a maximum payload of 3500kg, it is the largest single-engine helicopter in commercial use in the world.
Maritime New Zealand said the helicopter would focus on removing damaged containers and debris from cargo bays on the bow.
It was used yesterday to transfer 55 large bags of milk powder to the barge ST-60, as well as cut-up containers from various cargo bays.
Salvors were also to use the crane barge Smit Borneo to remove two empty stock feed containers from the port side of the bow today. The barge would then be repositioned to the stern.
A total of 463 containers removed directly from the Rena have been taken ashore for processing.
Platforms for emergency winching operations have been installed on the bow of the Rena, where an increase in movement has been detected.
Black oil was sighted this morning in the water between the separated sections of the vessel.
Salvors would mop up the oil as operations allowed, with the bulk of clean-up operations due to resume tomorrow.
Work to recover containers and debris from the water and beaches was also continuing, with 65 containers recovered from the water to date.
Debris from nine containers has been recovered from Matakana Island, with debris from three more containers still to be collected.
- APNZBy Matthew Backhouse @Mbackhouse Email Matthew