A team of divers have delved under the stricken vessel Rena to see how containers underwater can be salvaged, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says.

Improving weather allowed the divers to carry out preliminary sub-surface inspections of the ship after it split in two in bad weather last weekend, spilling further oil, containers and debris into the ocean.

The container ship had sat precariously on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Mt Maunganui since running aground on October 5.

The stern section began sinking last week after it slipped from its position on the reef.


MNZ National on-scene commander Rob Service said the underwater inspections allowed the team to prepare for the next step.

"This will enable the divers to prepare for a full underwater survey of the sunken rear section once the sea swells ease over the next couple of days. Once a detailed underwater survey is complete, the salvage contractors can plan their next steps to recover underwater containers."

The crane barge Smit Borneo was now connected to the sunken aft section of the Rena on its left side, and would be used to recover containers, he said.

Rough seas and the dangerous state of the wreck previously stalled salvage efforts since the aft section split and began to sink.

An oil spill last week has raised the toll of dead wildlife, with teams recovering two dead oiled little blue penguins from Papamoa, while another was transferred from Motiti Island to the Te Maunga wildlife recovery facility.

Mr Service said shoreline assessment teams were out on Matakana Island today. Teams also checked on protective oil booms at Maketu, Little Waihi and Waitahanui which would remain in place for now.

"Shoreline clean-up assessment teams (SCAT) will be deployed to Motiti Island tomorrow, with the assistance of an environmental adviser," said Mr Service.

Boaties were warned to stay away unless necessary as debris continued to be sighted over the weekend. A three nautical mile exclusion zone remained around Astrolabe Reef.


Braemar Howells container recovery team had five vessels along the Bay of Plenty coastline today, but rough seas hindered efforts to recover debris in the White Island area using the crane barge Subritzski and a fast response craft.

Another vessel has been working to recover a container north of Waihi beach, while Waihi itself was yesterday cleared of containers.