When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
By Dave Moran
Those of our readers who live in New Zealand have been following the unfolding situation of the Rena, a cargo ship with over 1300 containers stacked seven high. In the early hours of 5 October she slammed into Astrolabe Reef which is situated just south of New Zealand’s North Island port of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.
It does not take much imagination to visualize the possible damage to the ship’s 236m hull, weighing in at 47,230 tonnes, as it smashed into the unmovable reef at around 17 knots!
The armchair experts were soon inundating the radio talk back shows and letters to the editor in the national newspapers with their ‘expert’ opinions on what needed to be done! Few, if any, really had any idea how complex an attempted salvage operation would be. Just getting the paper work and contracts in place would have most people turning to the bottle for support!
The only real master as to how the salvage would proceed was King Neptune himself. Thankfully after he flexed his muscles for a few days just after the grounding he has been rather benign.
As we go to print (mid November) the sea conditions on the reef have been relatively calm for over five weeks. These conditions have allowed the Rena to hang together (just) and provided the weather window to allow the salvors, Svitzer (established 1833), to successfully suck off most of the remaining ship’s fuel oil (1315 tonnes).
There was a disastrous loss of approximately 350 tonnes when the ship first struck the reef, causing one of New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disasters.
The people of New Zealand, and especially the local Tauranga folk, can be congratulated for their response and the assistance they provided to the various organizations in charge of the clean-up. This kept the environmental damage to their magnificent beaches and coastal reefs to a minimum.
Local dive businesses, charter boat operators and many others who rely on taking customers out to enjoy the marine environment have felt the economic impact of the grounding.
For dive businesses, Astrolabe reef and its surrounding reefs, Motiti Island and its neighbouring Okaparu reef are their prime dive sites.
Having these areas within the official exclusion zone due to the ongoing salvage operations and oil pollution, has had a major impact on these businesses.
It could be some time before Motiti Island and Okaparu reef are removed from the exclusion zone while the container recovery phase continues.
When divers will be able to return to Astrolabe reef is anyone’s guess. It will depend on what is eventually decided regarding removing the wreck completely off the reef or if King Neptune decides to wash the reef clean. It will be interesting to see who is first.
I encourage divers to support the Tauranga dive operators. There are still many excellent dive locations outside the current exclusion zone.
For on going developments re the salvage operation visit: