Three weeks into the hearings over the fate of the Rena wreck on New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef, local Maori communities remain divided on whether the Rena should stay or go.
Owner Daina Shipping has submitted that the remaining wreck is benign and should remain. It now holds significant heritage value to the nation, it argue. The marine environment would be monitored for a further 10 years.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council hearings will determine whether to accept the proposal or if further salvage work is required.
Maori communities, initially united in opposition to the wreck remaining, have been divided since the owners embarked on a controversial cash restitution process to win their support.
The 47,000 tonne MV Rena hit the reef at almost full speed off the coast of Tauranga on 5 October 2011, spilling 1,368 containers and more than 1,700 tonnes of oil before breaking in half and sinking. A total of 3,344 tonnes of debris has been recovered from Rena’s debris field however some toxic debris remains.
Graeme Aitken, a Singapore-based shipping executive, argues on behalf of the Ngai Te Hapu, that monitoring was “grossly inadequate” and that the wreck endangers the health, safety, social, and cultural well-being of the community. Allowing it to remain would set a poor precedent.
“In the absence of a designated shipping lane for all ships arriving from ports south of Tauranga, the Rena event, in my opinion will happen again,” Aitken submitted. “The MV Rena was not the first vessel to touch Astrolabe Reef. This situation [rushing to meet a high tide] occurs often for ships destined for the Port of Tauranga today. With the port’s expansion program, and its zest to secure a larger slice of import and export cargo, these situations will increase in number.”
Aitken also argued the wash up from the wreck could take centuries.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA Department of Commerce, have reported that they are more recently seeing oil washed up along the California coastline, which has been traced back to discharges now occurring from a cargo vessel that sank during the Korean War more than 60 years ago,” he submitted.
Aitken noted the Swedish Protection and Indemnity Club had a very high exposure to the loss of the MV Rena. In a bad year the club may call for a second premium from its customers.
“[This] could be disastrous,” he said. “Many owners I suggest simply could not meet a second call on premium.”
Nevertheless the salvage should not be considered on a “cost to undertake the job” basis, Aitken stressed.
Te Patuwai Hapu of Ngati Awa and the Te Whanau a Tauwhao also say they want the wreck removed in its entirety because the contaminants endanger their way of life, their people, and their future generations.
Maori in favour of allowing the wreck to remain on the Reef include the Nepia Ranapia of Te Kahui Kaumatua Te Patuwai ki Motiti, an umbrella group of elders of Motiti Island. They argue that Astrolabe Reef has suffered enough and that the Rena wreck should be left where it is.
Hearings continue until 9 October.