Rena update (update 172)

18 January 2012, 4:00pm

Removal of containers from the bow section of the Rena resumed today, the first time since it broke apart 10 days ago that sea conditions have allowed.

The barge Smit Borneo is alongside the port side of the bow and the first container has been removed.

The weather at the wreck is relatively calm, with winds of 15-20 knots expected over the next few days.

Assessment of both sections of the Rena is continuing.

Maritime New Zealand Salvage Unit Manager Kenny Crawford says removal of containers from the bow of the vessel is now the priority.

“The helicopter removal of milk powder emptied from a container this week has been suspended, as the crane barge and helicopter cannot operate in the same area at the same time.”

Prior to it breaking apart, 397 containers had been removed from the Rena.

Some of the Rena containers being reported as “unaccounted for” are possibly still aboard the stricken ship.

Braemar Howells marine and distressed cargo specialist Richard van der Spoel says while about 500 containers are classified as “unlocated”, this does not mean they are either on the seabed or floating. It is likely a good many are still on board.

“Svitzer haven’t been able to establish how many are still on board, as it is still too hazardous to dive into areas of the bow and stern to identify the containers,” Mr van der Spoel says. 

He says many of the containers on the seabed are likely to be close to the wreck.  Ascertaining numbers has not yet been possible as salvors are working in that area. Sonar searches of the seabed are being carried out in other areas, with three containers located today north of Motiti Island. These containers are partly damaged and believed to be 40ft in length.

Mr van der Spoel says Braemar is not aware of any containers currently floating.

While about 500 containers have not been accounted for, Braemar has identification numbers for more than 450 containers, about 400 of which are on the bow. 

Meanwhile, other clean-up operations are ongoing throughout the Bay of Plenty. A total of 44 bags of debris were removed from Motiti Island yesterday.

The bags – each containing a few hundred kilos of debris – were heli-lifted to a barge in the Braemar operation.  Debris included milk bags, plastic and fermenting meat.

Elsewhere, Braemar clean-up efforts today included a focus on the Bowentown shoreline and the Eastern Bay of Plenty.  Six skips have been sent to Waihou Bay today for debris collection, while a barge and a fast response boat are engaged indebris collection at Whale and White Islands and mainland coastlines in the area.

Seven little blue penguins and two grey-faced petrels oiled in the past fortnight were released today after being treated at Massey University. Four oiled penguins were taken to Massey earlier in the week.

National On Scene Commander Mick Courtnell says the birds released today were freed at Mount Maunganui or at sea, depending where they were found.

Several hundred dead birds have been found in recent weeks, particularly since the Rena broke in two last week. Some were slightly oiled, but none were heavily oiled. Most of the dead birds were juvenile and unoiled, indicating that they died from natural causes, which is common early in the breeding season.

“The fact is that a lot of dead birds are being found simply because we are looking for dead birds,” Mr Courtnell says. “At this time of year there would be a lot of deaths irrespective of the Rena.”

Post-mortems will be conducted at Massey on some of the non-oiled birds over the next few days to find out if they died from ingesting debris.

A total of 2118 dead birds were found in the six weeks after the Rena grounded in October and spilt an estimated 350 tonnes of oil. Two thirds of these dead birds (about 1400) were oiled. Of these, nearly 1000 had oil over more than 50 percent of their bodies.

Oil clean-ups continured today at Matakana Island, Mount Maunganui and Leisure Island. A SCAT team monitoring the southern side of Motiti Island in recent days found no sign of oil. A meeting was held today between Maritime New Zealand and locals to agree methods of operating on the northern foreshore of the island.

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