A fly over shot of the M/V Rena grounded on Astrolabe Reef on October 8. Photo: Maritime New Zealand

An interim report into the grounding of the containership M/V Rena reveals that the crew may have been taking a shortcut when the vessel struck the Astrolabe Reef in the early morning hours on October 5th, causing New Zealand’s worst environmental maritime disaster to date.

The report, released last week by New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission, describes how the Rena left Napier, New Zealand for a 3am meeting with a pilot boat from Tauranga guided by the use of its auto pilot, GPS positions, and nautical charts. However at approximately 1.50am, the report says, the M/V Rena was on a direct track for Astrolabe Reef indicating that at some point the crew strayed from its intended course, causing the grounding.

“At about 0205 (2.05am) the master noticed an intermittent echo on the radar. The echo was about 2.6 nautical miles (4.8 kilometres) dead ahead of the Rena. The master showed the echo on the radar to the watch-keeping able-bodied seaman and they used binoculars to look through the windows of the bridge for the cause of the echo. They could not see anything, so they moved to the bridge wing to look from there. When again nothing could be seen, the master said he decided to plot the Rena‘s position on the chart, so began to walk through the wheelhouse to the chartroom,” the report says.

“At the time of 0214 (2.14am) as the master made his way to the chartroom the Rena struck Astrolabe Reef while traveling at a speed of 17 knots (31.5 kilometres per hour).”

The interim report concludes by saying that the Commission “is continuing to collate and verify information directly related to the grounding and is also pursuing several lines of inquiry of a wider systemic nature”.

The report, based on facts of the accident that have been able to be verified to date, does not contain an analysis of why the events happened as they did or what changes can be made in the future to help prevent such disasters, adding that these matters will be covered in the Commission’s final inquiry report.

So far, the captain and 2nd Officer of M/V Rena have been arrested in connection to the incident and face a number of charges including the discharge of harmful substances from ships, operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, and wilfully attempting to pervert the course of justice by altering the ship’s documents following the grounding.

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