The Rena disaster could hold lessons for the organisers of the America's Cup and other events, a researcher says.

Lincoln University environmental planning Associate Professor Hamish Rennie recently completed a study on the aftermath of the Rena oil spill, which resulted in 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil entering the Bay of Plenty after the container ship ran aground off the coast of Tauranga.

Rennie said the disaster offered useful lessons, including dealing openly with tangata whenua.

"The probability of the Rena case occurring was low, but the effects were catastrophic and created considerable division in the Bay of Plenty region, especially amongst iwi," he said.


"It seems wise to ensure that the consequences of a wreck, rather than the likelihood of its occurrence, are considered when assessing port facilities for events and activities."

The case also highlighted the need to consider the route that vessels might take, not just the area of high vessel congestion and most probable spill.

"For example, when considering port developments to support an event like the America's Cup, which is likely to attract many vessels, assessors should take into account what would happen if one of these ships was wrecked."

Proposals have also been made to dredge port facilities to allow larger vessels access to ports or relocate a particular type of vessel from one port to another, for instance from Auckland to Whangarei.

Rennie said the consequences of a wreck occurring with a new type of vessel en route to the new facilities should be considered in these situations as well.

"This means considering not just the sensitivity of the ecological environment, but also the social and cultural environment.

"The effect of the Rena grounding and associated discharges on the mauri of the area and on tangata whenua and kaitiaki was particularly evident."

The owners of the Rena went to considerable efforts to consult with the public, particularly tangata whenua, about an application to dump the remains of the Rena and allow ongoing discharges, he said.


This resulted in the majority of tangata whenua groups agreeing to the application when they had initially been opposed to it.

"For impact assessors, the lessons are clear: the owner was largely successful by openly engaging with tangata whenua groups on a face-to-face basis and co-operating with them throughout the process."