The M/V Rena pictured aground on the Astrolabe Reef on October 8, 2011. Photo: Dudley Clemens/Maritime New Zealand

Following six weeks of intensive operations in often challenging sea conditions, Resolve Salvage & Fire this week announced the removal of the first 600 tons of steel from the bow section of the stricken MV Rena wreck off Tauranga, New Zealand.  For many, the milestone, or any milestone for that matter, could not come soon enough. After all, next week (October 5th) marks the one year anniversary of its grounding on Astrolabe Reef.

Piece by piece, salvage crews from Resolve have spent the last 6 weeks removing wreckage using helicopters and a transport barge. Also on site is the RMG 280 crane barge with the ability to raise pieces of steel weighing up to 40 tons, much bigger than the helicopter can manage.

Air lift operations underway on August 15. A helicopter picks up oxygen bottles for transport to the salvage team on board the Rena, for the cutting operations. Cut sections of the Rena lie on the transport barge for later removal from the site. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

Of course, finding a method of removal has been no easy task. Due to the precarious position of the wreck’s bow on the Astrolabe Reef, and the nationwide concern in New Zealand over the country’s already worst environmental disaster, Resolve chose to attack the wreck using helicopters and cranes over a number of other possible proposals.

Speaking about the salvage operation, Frank Leckey, who is Resolve’s Salvage Master in charge of the MV Rena, said, “We now have our team of divers from the U.S. and our RMG 280 crane barge from Singapore for the underwater phase of wreck removal, now that the seas are expected to be calmer with the seasonal change. The crane barge can access the bow from deep water, far enough away to avoid the reef but close enough to lift the cut sections from the wreck onto a barge. The crane can remove much larger pieces than the helicopters, –up to 30 tons — so we have helicopter, crane and underwater dive operations all underway simultaneously.”

Weather has not always cooperated either. Strong winds and high seas up to six meters have interrupted the salvage operation on more than one occasion, forcing salvors to suspend operations.

“The wreck lies at a 34-degree angle,” Leckey said. “Combine that with significant movement when the wind or seas pick up and you have a dangerous situation. We have a full time health and safety officer monitoring all aspects of the operation.”

All-in-all progress is being made, albeit slower than some may like. Resolve says that it hopes to be able to reduce the wreck to a point where it is no longer visible on the water, by early 2013.

On Board The Rena Wreck – Photos and Video

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI51AmsF6r8[/youtube]

A technician cuts and removes side shell sections at the prow. The helicopter above and outside the photo frame has a line attached to the piece being cut. The helipad was erected on the prow to facilitate access. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

Rena’s bow on September 10. Photos: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

Speaking of angles, here’s a good shot showing what crews are dealing with. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

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