Alongside a dock at the Port of Tauranga, men in orange
overalls are busy preparing for their next battle in New
Zealand's biggest salvage operation.
They are employees of US-based Resolve Salvage and Fire, who,
nearly three years after the grounding of the containership
Rena, are still toiling in the catastrophe's aftermath.
Tonnes of equipment and machinery, including a pair of
heavy-duty cranes, have been loaded on to a huge barge ahead
of the next big job in a salvage operation which has already
cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
All of this gear will be used to clean up the underwater
junkyard that today surrounds the sunken, battered
Thousands of tonnes of debris are strewn across the sea floor
around the Astrolabe Reef, where the Rena has been undergoing
an underwater transformation from ship to scrapheap.
"There's absolutely everything down there," the project's
deputy director, Brad Tong, said.
Amid the tangled mess lie the remains of hundreds of shipping
containers, scrap metal, car parts, tyres, aluminium ingots,
cardboard, trampoline coils, some bags of magnesium oxide and
several tonnes of plastic beads.
Between now and Christmas, salvors expect to recover around
4000 tonnes of it.
Large chunks, located by divers working at 30m to 40m below
the surface, will be hauled from the bottom using large
In a single day, they can expect to retrieve about 50 tonnes
of scrap, in loads as large as six tonnes at a time.
Once back at port, the debris will be destined for recycling
Over the past 17 days, the same barge that was used to carve
the Rena's towering accommodation block into pieces has been
converted for the new task.
Mr Tong expected to put it into action by next week.
"Conceptually, it's been in the making for a long time, and
now it's about putting it all together quickly."
When the Herald visited yesterday, salvors were putting the
last touches to the 91m-long RMG 1000 and transferring hefty
mooring equipment that would hold it in place.
Its 25-strong crew worked at the mercy of swell conditions.
"The weather has a huge effect on us ... once you've got into
the spread, it's not easy to get back out, and you've really
got to watch the vessel's movement," Mr Tong said.
"The reef comes up from 80m, it's susceptible to a lot of
swell, and obviously its distance from the entrance of
Tauranga Harbour means you are exposed to 360 degrees of
The salvors expect this phase to be more straightforward than
the previous logistical headaches the Rena has thrown at
them. So far, they've included a critical race to pump
Marmite-like oil from fuel holds, carefully plucking away
containers stacked in high, leaning towers, and whittling the
ship's bow down amid roiling waters.
Mr Tong said each job came with its own hurdles, and what
they now faced was no different.
"It's challenging ... but it's not unbeatable."
- By Jamie Morton of the New Zealand Herald