rena shipwreck

Rena seen separated in two pieces after spending months shipwrecked on the reef. Photo taken January 8, 2012. Image Credit: Maritime NZ

MV Rena Shipwreck: New Zealand’s Worst Maritime Disaster in Photos

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 13769
October 5, 2021

The MV Rena was traveling at a speed of 17 knots when it grounded on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of New Zealand on October 5, 2011, during a voyage from Napier to port of Tauranga. At the time, the ship was carrying over 1,300 containers and 1,733 tonnes of heavy fuel. What resulted became the country’s worst maritime environmental disaster which took years to clean-up.

Investigators eventually found that it was the failure of the master and crew to follow proper voyage planning, navigation and watchkeeping practices, as well as the ship manager’s insufficient oversight of vessel’s safety management system, as the cause the shipwreck. About 200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were spilled in the accident, as well as a substantial amount of cargo containers lost overboard.

Now 10 years since the incident began, here’s a look back at photographs of the stricken MV Rena during its first year on the reef:

Flyover shots of stranded cargo vessel Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef. The photo above was taken at 7.45am on October 5th, hours after the ship grounded. Photo: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Above, a close up of Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef located off the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. The photo was also taken on October 5th, with the extent of damage to the vessel and environment yet to be realized. Photo: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Another closeup from mid-afternoon on October 5th. Notice the containers were still stacked at that time. Photo: Bay of Plenty Regional Council

In the above fly-over shot taken midday on October 8th you there is a noticeable oil sheen on the water. Photo: Dudley Clemens


The tanker Awanuia can be seen operating near the stricken cargo vessel on October 9th.  Photo: Maritime New Zealand

Again, the tanker Awanuia can be seen operating near Rena on October 10th. This time, you can notice the weather was starting to pick up. Photo: Maritime New Zealand

With heavy weather moving in, Rena began to list heavily and its cargo stacks collapsed, sending some containers into the water. The photo above was taken from HMNZS Endeavour on October 12th.  Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

You can see Rena losing containers as heavy swells wash over her deck on the starboard side.  You can really see the oil sheen in the above photo taken October 12th. Photo: Blair Harkness

Here’s Rena from another angle as she loses containers into the heavy seas.  Photo: Blair Harkness

Also on October 12th, a large crack appeared on the port side of the stricken vessel Rena. Photo: Maritime New Zealand

Here is a shot of fractured steel structures onboard Rena. Photo: Svitzer


A salvor can be seen being airlifted onto Rena on October 15th. Salvors were racing to get as much cargo and fuel oil off the vessel as possible.  Image credit: Svitzer

The tanker Awanuia pumps oil from the wreck on October 17th. The vessel Awanuia was eventually forced to ceased operations due to heavy weather. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

Operations continued around Rena as seen during a morning observation flight on November 15th. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

Before and after comparison of Rena as of November 23rd. By this point, almost all containers had been removed from the stern. Later it was revealed that an additional 21 containers containing dangerous goods were on board, which were not disclosed in the ship’s manifest. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

The photo above was taken during an overflight on December 18th. Salvors had been successful in getting some containers off the wreck, but many still remained. Image credit: LOC

The Smit Borneo and the Sea Tow 60 pictured side-by-side on December 22nd. Maritime New Zealand

Delaying the Inevitable

During the early morning hours of January 8th, Rena’s hull broke in half as heavy seas, with swells up to 6 meters, battered the vessel. With 830 containers still on board at that time, it was estimated that some 200-300 were lost overboard when it broke in half. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

As the seas calmed, damage to Rena could be seen during a morning observation flight on January 9th. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

One day later, on January 10th, the stern of the Rena slipped off the reef and began to submerge. Here it is above moments prior to sinking with more debris in the surrounding waters. Image: Maritime New Zealand

Moments later on January 10th, Rena’s bridge nearly fully submerged. Image: LOC

3D image of the MV Rena showing the wreck’s position on the Astrolabe Reef. Image: LOC

The bridge, clearly visible underwater, pictured on January 19th. Image: Maritime New Zealand

Despite numerous setbacks, container removal on the bow section made good progress with the help of the crane barge Smit Borneo. The photo above is from January 31st. Image: LOC

Life on a lean. Here’s a look at the working conditions of the Svitzer salvage team, as seen on February 19th. Image: Svitzer

Contents of reefer containers needed to be unloaded by hand. Image: Svitzer

Containers pushed the hatch covers off the deck of the bow section. They would later need to be chained down to prevent them falling overboard. Image: LOC

Above, a picture of the morning commute helped by a purpose-built helipad. Image: LOC

Heavy seas on March 21st cause the stern section to deteriorate rapidly over a 24-hour period. Image: LOC

Just a week later, more heavy swells slammed the wreck site. Image: LOC

The swells eventually caused the stern section to slip off the reef, as seen in this photo from April 4th. Image: LOC

Continuing into May 2012, salvage cranes lift containers and debris the forward section of Rena. Image: Smit and Svitzer working in a joint salvage venture

On May 25th, the Master and Second Officer would each be sentenced to seven months imprisonment for their role in the grounding. The men were later released after serving only half their sentences.

A salvage crane lifts the last hatch cover from the forward section in the above photo from May 28th. Image: Smit and Svitzer working in a joint salvage venture

The shot above shows all the hatch covers removed from the forward section of Rena on June 1st. The operation marked the end of the the container recovery stage. RESOLVE Marine Group would eventually be awarded the contract to remove the wreckage. Image: Maritime New Zealand

Above, a photo of air lift operations on August 15th. The helicopter was picking up oxygen bottles for transport to the salvage team on board Rena, to be used in cutting operations. Cut sections of the Rena laid on the transport barge for later removal from the site. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

In the photo above, a technician can be seen cutting and removing side shell sections at the prow. A helicopter hovering above, outside the frame, held a line attached to the piece being cut. The helipad was erected on the prow to facilitate access. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

Crews from RESOLVE would learn soon enough about the “life on a lean” thing. Photo: RESOLVE Marine Group, Inc.

In early September, heavy swells forced a piece of the bow section to break off.  Image: Maritime New Zealand

Salvors from RESOLVE on board Rena on September 22. Image: Maritime New Zealand.

On October 1, 2012, owners of the MV Rena, Daina Shipping Company, were sentenced to pay 27.6 million New Zealand dollars, or about US $22 million, to settle a series of claims with the government and several public bodies including Maritime NZ, Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Environmental Protection Agency, the Minister of Local Government (signing as the territorial authority for Motiti island), and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

An exhaustive salvage effort continued to remove as much of the wreckage as possible, although a large debris field remained at the site after several year. In 2016, a New Zealand court ruled that what remained of the Rena shipwreck could be abandoned at the site, but the owners would need to pay for on-going costs.

This article was originally posted in 2012 on the one year anniversary of the ship’s grounding. It’s been updated to reflect new developments.

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