The SVITZER salvage crews working on the M.V. RENA off the coast of New Zealand have displayed remarkable skill and dedication in the face of bad weather and under constant scrutiny by international media.

In the early hours of 5 October 2011, the container ship RENA struck the Astrolabe Reef, 15 nautical miles off the port of Tauranga, New Zealand. The ship quickly heeled to a starboard list and was unable to self refloat. SVITZER Salvage immediately sprang into action and the first SVITZER personnel arrived onboard the RENA later that evening.

As a salvage team was mobilised and numbers increased onboard to assist the stricken ship, a Lloyds Open Form 2011 with Scopic invoked was signed between SVITZER and the owners of the ship. The objectives once this was in place were to:
• Remove bunkers to minimise pollution of the environment
• Remove containers including dangerous goods containers
• Refloat the ship if possible

Given the remote location of the ship and the looming threat of an impending environmental disaster, a full scale mobilisation was put into action. This included personnel from Australia, South Africa, Singapore, The Netherlands, and the US, with equipment flown in from the Australian and Dutch warehouses by cargo planes.

To reduce the threat to New Zealand’s pristine waters and coastlines, removal of the bunkers from the ship was the first priority. A bunker barge in Auckland was chartered and transfer equipment was put into place for the removal of all bunkers and lubes. Due to the grounding, oil had begun leaking from the ships damaged areas triggering a race against time and weather to remove all higher risk bunkers to minimise the environmental damage.

The most dominant factor in this salvage operation has been the weather. The exposure of the site has kept the ship open to the full extremes of weather experienced in New Zealand. The first instance of poor weather moved the ship from a starboard list to a port list of some 22 degrees, further damaging the ship in the process. At this point, the ship’s hull began to show significant signs of stress in number 3 hold with the ship beginning to pen up with a large crack. At the same time, over 80 containers were lost overboard, necessitating a container recovery plan to be put into action. Several further periods of bad weather have been experienced since, with increasing impact on the ships condition.

Throughout the operation, SVITZER has continued to provide best endeavours under the contract to provide the services demanded. All accesible oil was removed from the ship’s tanks before the attention was turned to removing containers with the use of a barge. In early January, with a further bout of bad weather, the ship opened up into two distinct parts. With swells over six metres, the aft section of the ship slipped backwards and sank before settling below the surface.

At present, efforts continue by salvors to remove cargo from the forward part of the ship while assessments are made of both parts of the hull. During the entire operation, SVITZER and the RENA have faced the full exposure of the world’s media and public demand for minimising pollution of the environment. Maritime New Zealand have played an integral role in the management of the emergency response and have shown great leadership throughout the incident.

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