MV Rena Abandonment Decision Heads to Environment Court With Council’s Approval

The MV Rena lost an estimated 900 containers when it ran aground and broke up off the coast of New Zealand in October 2011. Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand
The MV Rena lost an estimated 900 containers when it ran aground and broke up off the coast of New Zealand in October 2011. Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand

The decision to abandon the wreckage of the former MV Rena containership from New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef will head to the country’s top Environment Court with the recommendation from local authorities that the full removal of wreckage is not feasible or recommended.

The MV Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef in October 5, 2011 while carrying over 1,300 containers and 1,700 tons of heavy fuel oil, resulting in what has been called the worst maritime environmental disaster in the country’s history. The incident sparked a massive clean-up effort initially focussed on the recovery of containers, oil, and other contaminants, even as the ship continued to break-up in the months that followed. Following that initial period, an exhaustive salvage effort to remove as much of the wreckage as possible has been undertaken by Resolve Fire and Salvage, although a large debris field remains at the wreck site.

Earlier this year, Rena’s owner lodged an “Application for resource consent” with the local Bay of Plenty Regional Council seeking permission to leave sections of the wreck and associated debris in place on the reef, and also requesting that the application be sent to New Zealand’s Environment Court for final decision. After receiving over 150 submissions during a public comment period, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council agreed to refer the decision on the removal of the wreck to the Environment Court, citing the high probability of an appeal and the added costs associated with holding its own hearings.

Along with the Council’s decision, Chief Executive of the Council, Mary-Anne Macleod, requested 40 working days, double the standard time, to prepare its own technical report, known as s87F and prepared under the Resource Management Act, that it would later submit to the Environment Court.

In the report, which was released earlier this week, the Council concluded that while full removal of the wreckage is technically possible, it poses unnecessarily high health and safety risks, as well as added environmental risks, and is therefore not feasible.

“The report concludes that the damage already caused by the grounding, coupled with the difficulty and high health and safety risks of full wreck removal, essentially restricts the options available,” said Macleod in a statement on the report’s findings.

“The Council’s s87F report recommends that, provided key issues can be adequately addressed through the consent process, including consideration of cultural concerns, the Application should be granted,” the Council said in its statement.

The report did recommend that some considerations be met prior to the Environmental Court’s approval of the application, particularly concerning the removal copper contaminants from the reef and some other sections of the wreck .

The statement added: “The Council’s recommended conditions include the Applicant clearing debris, removing remaining sections of the bow, working to remove copper, conducting underwater surveys, establishing a Kaitiaki Reference Group and a Technical Advisory Group and preparing a monitoring plan as well as working closely with Maori.”

The Council’s s87F report can be found at www.renaresourceconsent.org.nz