Rena wreck to remain on reef

Diving and fishing on the reef will be uninterrupted by further salvage efforts. Photo: Supplied.

The remainder of the Rena wreck will be permitted to remain on Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef off the Bay of Plenty coast.

The news concerning the stricken container ship, which hit the reef in October 2011, emerged from Environment Court in an interim decision released this week following an earlier hearing.

The appeal by Ngai Te Hapu incorporated and Nga Potiki A Tamapahore Trust, against the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's decision to leave the remainder of the wreck on the reef, has failed.

“Essentially, the proposition is that all that can be done in respect of the reef from wreck removal has been done and that further works would have not only a detrimental effect on the reef and its biology (at least in the short term) but also be a safety risk for workers, particularly divers,” reads Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith’s decision.

“By the end of the hearing, we understood that it was conceded that there was little further that could be done in respect of the aft section. This section of the vessel is in deep water and is unlikely to move.

“It has already suffered significant structural failure and the vessel is flat-packing. Any attempts to lift or move the vessel are likely to lead to collapse of sections and potential scattering of the pieces further around the reef.

“The feasibility of such an action is at best questionable and we received no cogent evidence that it was possible to lift the aft sections. At most it was suggested to several witnesses that it must be possible.”

Given the difficulties encountered in the removal of part of the Rena accommodation section, the Court considers any difficulties in attempting to undertake lifts on the site are compounded by the difficult position of the reef and the possibility of adverse weather conditions arising during the works.

“A number of witnesses for the appellant conceded that loss of life in respect of the reef, or significant damage to the reef, would be unacceptable,” says the decision.

“The argument essentially appeared to be that the Applicant's witnesses had vastly overestimated both the difficulties and the safety issues arising from the works.

“We conclude that the prospect of removing the aft section is negligible. The best course of action is to leave it in situ to flat-pack in due course.”

The mid-section of the vessel has already largely flatpacked, and consists of large and interconnected sheets, which may be unable to be salvaged without breaking things up and creating a bigger mess on a more active part of the reef which would increase difficulty and dangers for divers.

Like the hearings commissioners, the Environment Court has decided on a ten year consent and a further ten year maintenance period, with a $5 million bond in case up to 20 tonne parts of the bow require removal.

“Having reached the conclusion that everything that can be done in relation to the wreck has been undertaken, the fundamental question asked early in the hearing by members of the Court, and the focus of attention, is whether or not there is any particular purpose in granting a consent,” says the decision.

As the case progressed it became clear that at least several of the participants saw real benefits in conditions of consent. Even some of the parties in opposition recognised some aspects of consent conditions as being beneficial.

The following benefits of consent conditions were subject to focus during the hearing:

(a) the ability to measure and notify parties, including the public, as to the state of discharges on the reef;

(b) the ability to check for and then consider any changes to the positioning of the wreck, particularly as the result of major weather patterns;

(c) the ability to proactively review changes, either to the discharges or to the wreck position, and to review whether or not modern technology would enable removal; for example, whether discharges were recoverable, or if smaller parts of the bow were to move and become recoverable;

(d) the ability to recognise the role of kaitiaki, a specific reference group, and to acknowledge the role of the local iwi, hapu and kaitiaki in relation to the wreck;

(e) to make specific provision to enable offset compensation and enable the kaitiaki role of coastal Maori, particularly those who are ahi ka to Motiti Island.

The parties are to consult on the appropriate conditions of consent and the Applicant is to forward to the regional council and all other parties its proposed conditions of consent within 40 working days.

The council and all other parties are to advise their position in respect of the conditions within a further 20 working days. Thereafter the applicant is to file a memorandum setting out the proposed consent and conditions.

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