Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Officials give Rena beaches all-clear

File photo / Alan Gibson
File photo / Alan Gibson

More than a month after oil spilled from the stricken container vessel Rena, closing the coastline between Mt Maunganui and Maketu, officials have lifted access restrictions to all areas except a section of Papamoa Beach and Maketu Spit, where clean-ups are continuing.

But beachgoers are still urged to "exercise caution" and an iwi-imposed rahiri banning the collection of seafood will remain in place until authorities give the all-clear.

Maritime New Zealand's national on-scene commander, Mick Courtnell, said he could order the beaches closed again if he needed to.

"If I need to clean them, I close them to the public ... if they become re-oiled, then I'll close them again."

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said it was "the news we have all been waiting for".

"The beaches and coastline are the backbone of our economic livelihood over the summer and we want all holidaymakers, event operators and locals to know that this means we are now officially back in business."

Max Mason, chief executive of the chamber of commerce, said the announcement "signals the start of our recovery".

"However, the image of our pristine beach and marine environment has been dealt a serious blow, and we need the community's help to restore it."

Mr Mason reiterated his calls for locals to tell the world Tauranga is again "clean and open for business".

Tauranga man Chris Muraahi, who spent yesterday afternoon swimming at reopened Tay St beach, said the announcement was "awesome".

A few metres along the beach, Brazilian visitor Manuela Memezes and several friends were pleased, having also feared lengthyclosures.

Meanwhile, salvors have yet to offload the first container after swells thwarted efforts yesterday.

The Australian-based crane barge Sea Tow 60 was being repositioned on the ship's more sheltered port side.

"The team is out there and everyone is hopeful that the first container will be uplifted soon, but it is a time-consuming process," said Maritime NZ salvage manager Kenny Crawford.

Containers will be transferred to a shuttle barge before being brought into port, where they will be assessed and processed by specialist container recovery company Braemar Howells.

* Each of the 10 containers on board containing dangerous cargo will be "carefully analysed" before being moved.
* Four are on on the deck and six are submerged in a hold.
* Each has been tagged with a GPS transponder.
* One container holding acidic lkysulphonic liquid has fallen overboard but is not believed to pose significant risks.

- NZ Herald

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