Rena's stern stable after sinking

By Paul Harper, Genevieve Helliwell, NZ Herald staff, APNZ

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The Rena slowly sinks beneath the waves off Tauranga today. Photo / LOC
The Rena slowly sinks beneath the waves off Tauranga today. Photo / LOC

The stern section of the MV Rena has not shifted any further since three-quarters of it sank beneath the waves this morning, but bad weather has forced container recovery to come to another temporary halt.

It was confirmed today that around 400 containers were still in in the stern section of the ship, which is 75 per cent submerged.

Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Dave Billington confirmed this afternoon that the stern section has been stable since 10am, after progressively sinking over the previous half-hour.

Earlier it was estimated around 150 containers fell overboard when the ship split in two on Saturday night.

Claudine Sharp, of recovery specialist Braemar Howells, said 45 containers had been identified and of these, 25 had washed up on the beach or come ashore.

Maritime New Zealand and salvage crew were on site when the aft section of the MV Rena began to sink this morning around 9.30am.

At this time, two containers "popped out'' of the aft section and the life-rafts also inflated. A small amount of oil was also released but this amount was "in the single digits of tonnes'', Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

Mr Billington said the weather meant it was too dangerous for the Go Canopus or the Smit Borneo to get close to the vessel to continue container removal.

When the weather settles down, Mr Billington said divers would survey the vessel and make an assessment whether the Smit Borneo would be safe over the wreck site.

A small amount of oil, a handful of pieces of containers and a lot of debris escaped from the ship in the last 24 hours. MNZ national on scene commander Alex van Wijngaarden said oil was likely to reach Motiti Island tonight and the shoreline from Maketu to Matata "late tomorrow or early evening tomorrow''.

Stern submerged

Salvors noticed the stern moving on the reef about 9am.

The bow section of the Rena remains in its original position on the reef.

MNZ staff and salvors Svitzer have been airborne to monitor the slow progression of the aft section into the sea since the vessel's status began to change rapidly after 8.30am.

A small amount of oil has been released from the stern section, along with debris - mostly timber - and a small number of containers.

The amount of oil released has not yet been calculated, but is known to be only a fraction of the size of spill released last October.

MNZ trajectory modelling shows the first oil is likely to reach Motiti Island this evening with more predicted to reach the shore at Pukehina tomorrow, National On Scene Commander Alex van Wijngaarden said.

"This was not unexpected," Mr van Wijngaarden said. "We are prepared, and we will deal with it."

A Maritime spokeperson said the accommodation section of the Rena was already completely underwater.

There was no one on board.

"The accommodation section, the white part that sticks up, is beneath the water. The front of the aft part of the ship is still above water and it's still upright at this stage,'' the spokeswoman said.

The aft section is the larger part of the stricken cargo ship, which ran aground on the Astrolabe reef off Tauranga on October 5.

Container recovery company Braemar Howells believes around 400 containers are in the submerged stern section of the vessel. Spokesman Grant Dyson said two tugs have been sent to the Rena to try and contain drifting containers, and also tow any floating containers to a specialised recovery barge that was being deployed.

Around 150 containers are believed to have come off the vessel when it split in half over the weekend.

Containers could reach Whitianga

Meanwhile containers and debris from the wrecked Rena could drift as far north as holiday hotspot Whitianga and beachgoers have been warned to look out for timber and other dangerous material that could be hidden in the surf.

Mt Maunganui and Papamoa were yesterday spared the worst of the Rena breaking in two, but several freight containers and hundreds of 20kg bags of milk powder washed up on Waihi Beach - nearly 60km away.

There were also reports of looting of the stranded goods, tyres beaching at Matakana Island and a 3km sheen of oil stretching from the ship which is close to sinking since crashing into the Astrolabe Reef on October 5.

An observation flight this morning found more debris has been found around the Rena, including bits of plastic and wood.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council's harbourmaster has directed that all vessels must keep at least 200 metres clear of containers from the stricken ship. This is additional to the ongoing exclusion zone of three nautical miles around the Astrolabe Reef and any part of the Rena.

Waihi Beach residents and holidaymakers awoke to fine weather yesterday and a number of containers and hundreds of bags of milk powder that littered the coast for hundreds of metres.

TIMELINE OF RENA DISASTER

October 5
- The Tauranga-bound cargo ship Rena runs onto Astrolabe reef at 2.20am.

October 6
- A pollution response team in Tauranga prepares to respond to any oil leak.

- New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission investigators begin interviewing crew.

- The first four oil-covered sea birds are discovered dead in the water near the slick.

- Salvage company Svitzer appointed.

October 7
- Maritime NZ says the oil leak is difficult to stop due to ``considerable damage'' to the ship.

October 9
- First efforts are made to pump oil from the Rena to the barge Awanuia.

October 10
- Oil starts washing ashore on Mt Maunganui beach, prompting officials to warn people to stay away.

October 11
- 350 tonnes of the fuel oil may have leaked from the ship and the event is dubbed New Zealand's worst maritime environmental disaster.

October 12
- The captain of the Rena and the ship's second officer are charged with ``operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk'' under Section 65 of the Maritime Act.

October 13
- The Rena's owners make a video apology to the people of Tauranga and New Zealand for the disaster.

October 14

- The bird death toll from Rena oil spill reaches 1000.

- Most of the ship's 25 Filipino crew fly home.

October 16
- Oil begins to be pumped form the Rena.

October 26
- The halfway mark in pumping oil from the ship is reached.

November 2
- The Rena's captain and second officer each face a new charge under the Resource Management Act relating to the ``discharge of harmful substances from ships or offshore installations''.

November 13
- Salvors finish pumping oil from the Rena, meaning container salvage operations can get underway. About 100 tonnes of oil remain on board. About 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil was on board the cargo vessel when it struck the reef. About 350 tonnes of oil spills into the ocean.

November 15
- Beach bans in the Bay of Plenty are lifted after the huge operation to rid the shores of oil.

November 16
- The first container is removed by salvors from the Rena.

November 22
- The first group of 49 little blue penguins treated after the oil spill are released back into the wild.

November 25
- A group of rare dotterels caught to stop them being coated by oil are released back into the wild.

December 8
- 30 more little blue penguins are released back into the wild.

December 14
- Tourism Bay of Plenty launches a campaign to lure visitors back to the region after images of oiled beaches and wildlife were sent around the world.

December 19
- It is reported sharks have attacked sonar equipment being used to track containers that were lost overboard.

December 21
- The Rena's captain and second officer face new charges relating to the alleged altering of the ship's documents after the ship ran aground.

January 2
- The Rena breaks in two, but Maritime NZ says the ship may still be joined underneath.

January 6
- Biggest storm to hit the Rena since it grounded forecast for the weekend.

January 8
- The Rena splits in two after heavy swells batter the stricken ship during a storm over the weekend. About 150 containers spill into the ocean. The bow and stern sections are still on the reef, about 30m apart.

January 9
- Containers and debris, including packages of milk powder, timber and polystyrene, begins washing up on beaches. Clean-up operations get underway again.

January 10
- Stern section of the Rena slips off the Astrolabe Reef and partly sinks.

- NZ Herald

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