Rena Debris Blocks the Way North!

Mike and Liz Downing
Thu 12 Jan 2012 10:47
As forecast, the remnants of another tropical storm came across the North Island at the weekend. So yet more heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday with gale force winds and, this time, high swells of up to 7 metres from the north. Not a problem for us, out of the water up on the hard, but a real problem for the Rena and the salvage team working on her. They thought she would break up in storm the previous week. Despite the battering she held together, but not this weekend. The swells were too great and she finally split in two, throwing all manner of flotsam and jetsam into the sea, including more oil and 150 or so of the 900 containers still on board. With the winds in the north it's all starting to wash up on the beaches around the Bay of Plenty. One beach to the north of Tauranga was turning white, being covered in milk powder bags. Considering how strong containers look, it's surprising how many break up and spew their contents into the sea and onto the beaches. Containers are washing up in very inaccessible bays and the only way to recover them is for a wetsuited salvor to swim in and attach a rope so they can be towed back into the sea where they can be recovered with a huge recovery barge and crane. Containers are not the only danger - a big oil slick (from 4 to 10 kilometres, depending on which paper you read) is out at sea and expected to hit the beaches in the next few days. It's not a good time to sail from Tauranga! 
Although the high winds eased on Monday, the seas were still high and the stern section of the Rena started sliding off the reef and sinking into deep water. The block of flats that are the living quarters and bridge, are totally submerged now and there's just a small section still showing above the water. It's taken a lot of containers down with it, which will now have to be recovered from under the water - a highly dangerous job! The bow section of the ship is on it's own still hard and fast on the reef. 
Another impact of the Rena - sharks! More than normal have been seen swimming close to the beaches, attracted by the content of a fair number of refrigerated food containers on board that have broken up and emptied their contents (including meat) into the sea. So if you're out swimming and the timber, containers and other flotsam in the surf doesn't get you, the sharks just might! 
With the North Island sinking under all this rain, the south east corner of the South Island is experiencing drought conditions. It hasn't rained there for over a month and the 2 driest months of the year are still to come. Wish we had the boat down there - we would have finished all our painting weeks ago! The last 2 days here have actually been dry and we've completed all the antifouling except for 2 more coats on the rudder. It's raining again now and more rain is forecast for tomorrow, but then they reckon there will be a number of dry days and it looks like summer could finally be arriving, so fingers crossed!