Hearings on the application for Rena remains to be left on New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef off the port of Tauranga concluded on 9 October, with lawyers representing the Crown and shipowner at odds.
The New Zealand Government has opposed the application by The Astrolabe Community Trust representing Daina Shipping and its insurer to leave the bulk of the 47,000-tonne container vessel that ran aground, split in two, and sank in 2011 on the Reef.
A total of 3,344 tonnes of debris has been recovered over a four-year salvage operation, with the owners now applying to leave the remains, monitor the wreck, and compensate the community.
The Crown, however, has argued for the bow of the vessel, which lies just below one metre, to go and that no wreckage above 30 m remains. It also wants more rigorous monitoring measures and removal of contaminants at debris hot spots.
Describing the application to allow the remaining wreck as “challenging and novel”, the Crown told hearings it sought improved outcomes for health and safety, environment, natural character and cultural effects, as well as navigational and dive safety.
Rena’s counsel described the Crown’s stance as “adversarial” – “seemingly as a belated attempt to appease” critics. He argued removing the bow would cost NZD100 million (USD66.8 million), be difficult, risky, and of no benefit.
“Without consent, there will be no conditions, volunteered, or otherwise,” Counsel for the applicant warned. “This is simply a statement of fact, not a threat.”
“Whatever the fate of the ‘wreck’, if consent was to be declined, the contaminants already in the environment would remain (without monitoring or contingencies),” he continued, also rebutting statements the owners had used “divide-and-conquer tactics” on Maori communities.
On 8 October, the final day of hearings, expert witnesses from all parties submitted a report on areas of agreement. Their report consented to the Rena application to leave the wreck on Otaiti/Astrolabe Reef on certain conditions. These included removal of plastic beads; Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) canisters, aluminium ingots; inorganic material; entanglement, and other hazards from the debris field, along with any future discharges from the wreck of harmful substances or contaminants.
The experts could not agree on whether sections of the bow should stay or go, or whether the monitoring period should be 10 or 20 years.
An Independent Technical Advisory Group is proposed to monitor the wreck, and both its environmental and cultural effects.
Compensation to local Maori communities and residents amounted to NZD3 million, and a contribution of NZD440,000 to the surf lifesaving clubs within the Bay of Plenty area whose members helped with the oil spill cleanup.
Bonds and sureties underwritten by the shipowners insurer, the Swedish Club, amounting to NZD47 million were also proposed.
Meanwhile, the Regional Council has considered the imposition of shipping lanes in the Bay of Plenty. Vessels over 500 gt would remain at set distances from identified hazards. Monitoring and enforcement of these provisions would be assisted by the virtual aids to shipping funded by Rena’s owners.
A decision is due on 18 December.