Report: Initial Response to MV Rena Grounding Flawed, But Overall Effective

Mike Schuler
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December 4, 2013

Fly-over shots of the M/V Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef on October 8, three days after grounding. Photo: Dudley Clemens via MNZ

New Zealand’s maritime safety authority, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), has been put under the microscope for their response to the October 2011 MV Rena containership grounding and oil spill in a new independent report released today by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

The MV Rena ran aground October, 5 2011 on the clearly marked Astrolabe Reef located off the Bay of Plenty coast in New Zealand while carrying 1,368 containers and 1,733 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (HFO). The resulting oil spill and eventual break up and partial sinking of the vessel has been considered the worst environmental maritime disaster in the country’s history.

SEE ALSO: MV Rena Grounding – A Year in Photographs

Conducted by former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Murdoch, the review identified several areas for improvement, primarily focussing on MNZ’s initial response to the incident.

Transport Minister Brownlee also announced a $2 million package to help MNZ implement recommendations made in the report in developing a wider response capability and associated contingency planning to address both oil and non-oil issues such as salvage, debris and other pollution.

Responding to the report, MNZ says it welcomes the release of the independent review and the announcement of $2m of Government funding.

MNZ Director Keith Manch said the organization was already implementing a number of the review recommendations and the funding package would help MNZ develop a wider strategic and operational response to maritime incidents.

gCaptain’s Full MV Rena Coverage

In the review report, Murdoch made it clear the Rena grounding was unprecedented in its complexity but the response, while flawed in some aspects, had ultimately been effective.

A separate report was also released today on the review of Rena Recovery Plan’s scientific monitoring program, which has been assessing the environmental impacts of the grounding.

MV rena breakup split new zealand containership
MV Rena after she split in two, January 8, 2012. image courtesy Maritime New Zealand

After Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef, hundreds of oil spill responders and 8,000 volunteers removed around 1,000 tons of oily waste from the coastline, recovered more than 4,500 tons of containers and debris and rescued hundreds of oiled birds. Beaches closed as a result of oil were re-opened from November 16, 2011. The ship broke in two in January 2012 and in April the vessel’s stern sank into the sea.

“The reviewer finds the response team overcame initial hurdles to set up a strong and effective team that worked closely with the local community. The response minimized the risks to wildlife and achieved a high quality, world class clean-up,” Manch said. “The generally positive results of the Rena Recovery Plan’s scientific monitoring program support this finding.”

Manch said the response team faced a complex scenario involving not only oil recovery, but non-oil pollution from containers and resulting debris, as well as overseeing a difficult salvage operation.

“I’m very proud of the professional and sustained effort by people across MNZ but we certainly did not act alone,” added Manch. “The success of the response was only possible due to the collaborative efforts of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, iwi, community groups, local government and other agencies such as the Department of Conservation, the Defence Force, and Massey University’s Wildlife Health Centre.”

The review identifies a range of areas for improvement including: being better prepared (strategically and operationally) across government and with response partners; having greater capability and training; improved administration; revising the structure of the incident command centre (ICC); and better engagement with communities and iwi.

“While the response was not as efficient as it should have been in the initial stages, it improved quickly and became very effective, which is borne out in the largely positive environmental results of the Rena Recovery Plan’s scientific monitoring programe,” added Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

A two nautical mile exclusion zone for all vessels around the Rena site on Astrolabe Reef is still in effect as work to remove debris continues.

The “Independent Review of Maritime New Zealand’s Response to the MV Rena Incident on 5 October 2011” report is available for download from the MNZ website.

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