US salvors Resolve have been appointed by the owners of Rena for next stage of the wreck's removal - breaking down and removing the bow.

Konstantinos Zacharatos, on behalf of the Rena's owners, made the announcement during a visit to Motiti Island today.

The tiny island - a short distance from the wreck site - bore the brunt of the disaster and was badly hit by spilt oil and smashed containers.

"After the grounding in October last year we have been closely managing the work of our environmental agents Braemar Howells and salvors Svitzer.


"The appointment of Resolve is the next important step in dealing with the issues arising from this regrettable incident,'' said Mr Zacharatos.

The exclusion zone that stretches two nautical miles, or 3.7km, around the wreck has deprived islanders of a long-cherished fishing area.

"It's also a wonderful diving spot, it's where my son loves snorkelling, but we can't go there,'' said Patuwai Tribal Committee chairman and long-time island resident, Nepia Ranapia.

"You only have to go out fishing 100 metres and you're looking right at it. I'd rather they just focus on getting it off.''

Captain John Owen, the Senior Claims Manager with The Swedish Club, the Rena's insurer, said Resolve would be responsible for reduction of the bow section, using helicopters to lift sections as they were cut.

"This is a very difficult and potentially dangerous location to conduct operations,'' said Captain Owen.

"The Resolve plan means that we can continue to reduce the wreck in a controlled and safe manner.''

Resolve are set to start work in the next two weeks. The bow section's removal is forecast to take up to six months.

Rena ran aground on Astrolabe (Otaiti) reef on October 5 last year, and broke up in January this year.

A spokesperson for Rena's owners and insurers said the owners have to date spent $200 million on the clean up operation. The next stage is set to cost a further $50m.

The ship's captain, Mauro Balomaga and navigational officer Leonil Relon were sentenced in May and are serving seven-month prison terms.

The Greece-based Rena owner Daina Shipping Company is being prosecuted by the Crown under the Resource Management Act, while two New Zealand legal firms have been preparing a class action lawsuit against the ship's owners which could end up being the country's biggest environmental claim.

North South Environmental Law in Auckland, assisted by Holland Beckett Lawyers in Tauranga, has identified 150 claimants affected by the Rena grounding - and expects to add more in the coming weeks.

The claimants, all business owners, will become part of a joint lawsuit to bring proceedings against the Shipping Company.

Individual claims from Bay of Plenty businesses range between $20,000 and $250,000.