Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena clean-up could take a year

Sunbathers can enjoy Mt Maunganui beach, but the arduous hands-and-knees job of clearing fuel oil washed ashore from the Rena will drag on ... and more pollution could come if the ship breaks up. Photo / Alan Gibson
Sunbathers can enjoy Mt Maunganui beach, but the arduous hands-and-knees job of clearing fuel oil washed ashore from the Rena will drag on ... and more pollution could come if the ship breaks up. Photo / Alan Gibson

It could take at least a year for the Bay of Plenty to recover from the Rena crisis - and officials are still preparing for all the stricken ship's remaining oil and containers to be lost into the sea.

Maritime New Zealand says an observation flight this morning found there has been no further damage to the vessel overnight, after fears rough sea conditions could break the ship apart.

Conditions have improved since yesterday, with winds of between 15 and 20 knots, and 1.5-2 metre swells this morning.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said yesterday that a long-term recovery plan now being developed would be "a 12-month exercise" - an indication of the lingering stain the disaster may leave on the region.

The plan, discussed by the Bay of Plenty's mayors and six iwi, included the worst-case scenario of a second 350-tonne oil spill.

Dr Smith also revealed that the Government was considering prosecuting the Greek shipping giant that owns the ship after yesterday laying new charges against its captain and navigational officer.

The Government has six months to prosecute Costamare Shipping, which could face fines of up to $600,000 under the Resource Management Act.

"The Government is of a view we need to throw the full force of the law at those responsible, not only for the deaths of more than 1400 birds but also pollution to tens of kilometres of beaches," Dr Smith said.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby called for action against Costamare.

"Where people are accountable on this issue, they should be brought to account - and that's everybody."

Maritime law expert Peter Dawson said the most difficult aspect of prosecuting the company would be establishing where the action would be brought. "The only asset Costamare has in our jurisdiction is parked on the reef, and it's not worth a hell of a lot of money."

The two Rena officers, who have name suppression, were back in Tauranga District Court yesterday to face charges under the Resource Management Act (RMA) relating to the discharge of harmful substances from the ship.

They were earlier charged under the Maritime Transport Act with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk.

The new charges carry penalties of up to two years in jail or fines of up to $300,000, plus fines of up to $10,000 for each day the offending continues.

The Maritime Transport Act charges carry maximum penalties of a $10,000 fine or a year in jail.

Mayor Crosby said the initial charges seemed "a little light or weak, whereas I understand the RMA could be a lot more forceful and bring home a lot more accountability".

He believed the people of Tauranga also wanted those responsible prosecuted to the full extent.

"They are putting a lot of effort into the recovery, and many people in our region must be upset there could have been a possibility of those responsible getting away quite lightly."

The disaster remains a hot election issue, and Labour leader Phil Goff yesterday attacked the Government over its initial response to the October 5 grounding of the Rena.

He claimed the Government waited five days "instead of getting equipment and experts in straight away".

"We know what the Prime Minister was doing for much of that time. He was chasing cameras around the country during the Rugby World Cup."

Prime Minister John Key said the Government had acted as best as it could have.

Asked if he would like the ship to hold together until the election was over, Mr Key said: "I want it to stay in one piece as long as we can get the oil and the containers off."

Salvors yesterday resumed efforts to reach the final 358 tonnes of oil remaining in the Rena's submerged starboard number five tank after the ship survived rough weather on Tuesday night without further damage or the loss of any more containers.

Maritime NZ salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said the Rena remained settled on Astrolabe Reef in a "good situation", although there were reports of new buckling in the ship's structure and another bout of bad weather was expected tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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