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NZ’s worst environmental maritime disaster

Investigators were still trying to find out why the laden container ship Rena, owned by Costamare of Greece and being operated for the Mediterranean Shipping Co, ploughed up on a well-marked reef off the New Zealand coast in early October. According to investigations, the 38,788gt ship was inbound for the Port of Turanga from the Port of Napier, New Zealand when she hit the Astrolobe Reef off the Bay of Plenty at 0220 on 5 October 2011. At the time, the ship was carrying 1,368 containers, eight of which contained hazardous materials, as well as around 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 200 tonnes of marine diesel. Although the crew was safely evacuated, heavy weather set in, causing the hull to shift on the reef and crack in several places. By 13 October the 1990-built vessel had developed a 20-degree list and had lost a number of containers overboard as well as 350 tonnes of fuel oil. However, immediately afterwards a window of good weather allowed over 1,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil to be pumped off, most of it into the bunkering tanker Awanuia. New Zealand’s environment minister, Nick Smith, said it appeared that the container ship had gone up on the reef because her officers were ‘in a rush’ to get to port. ‘It appears from the charts,’ said Smith, ‘that they were in a rush to get to port, went full bore, cut the corner and hit the reef.’ The identities of the 43-year-old captain and his 37-year-old navigation officer, both Filipinos, have not been disclosed because of concerns about their safety. Both face charges under New Zealand’s Maritime Transport Act.

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