Cleaning up after Rena

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 39, March 2012

Braemar Howells joined the Rena recovery operation soon after the vessel grounded off Tauranga last October. The British-based company has been responsible for recovering damaged containers and cargo, and salvaging cargo from the stricken ship.
Waihi Beach
Maritime New Zealand ©2021
Clean-up operations on Waihi Beach after debris from Rena washed up on shore.

The company was well prepared for its role. Its personnel have previously worked with significant maritime incidents around the globe, including the Deepwater Horizon and West Atlas rigs and the vessels MV Newcastle, MV Fedra, MV New Flame, MSC Napoli, MT Erika, MT Prestige, MT Sea Empress, MT Nakhodka, MT Borga, MT British Enterprise and MT Exxon Valdez. Now New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster has been added to that list.

Braemar Howells is teamed with Nelson-based marine support company Unimar Marine Services for the recovery operation. It also works closely with MNZ, the salvage company Svitzer, government agencies, local government councils and local iwi. All of these organisations have a common aim: to minimise the environmental impact of the Rena disaster and return New Zealand’s coastline to a pristine state as quickly as possible.

Clean up crew with heavy machinary.
Clean-up operations underway at Matakana Island.
Maritime New Zealand ©2021

For the Rena recovery, the company drew on specialist staff with skills in marine operations, logistics, distressed cargo, shoreline clean-up and other incident management expertise from its facilities around the world.

The battles to clean up Rena are being fought on several fronts. Braemar/Unimar operates at sea and underwater, along the shoreline and in the air. When necessary, specialised operators such as aviation experts carry out information-gathering flyovers. Sonar-equipped vessels search the seabed for sunken containers, and specialised divers retrieve debris from inaccessible shorelines.

Partnering with Unimar for the clean-up has enabled more than a dozen vessels to be deployed at a time. The vessels include fast-response craft, tugs, crane barges and landing craft equipped with cranes. Taking a proactive approach has proven as effective in practice as it has for contingency plans. This was demonstrated when the ship broke up in January and Braemar/Unimar vessels were deployed to retrieve debris and floating containers at sea, before they arrived at beaches along the coast.

Spilled cargo has been diverse – plastic beads, paper, latex gloves, packets of milk powder, timber and domestic furniture. Each type has presented different challenges for collection and disposal and tested the team’s ingenuity. Collection techniques range from picking up by hand to using mechanised beach groomers and barges equipped with excavator arms.

Figures at the end of February showed that since Rena grounded, Braemar Howells had processed about 4,500 tonnes of waste. About 3,800 tonnes went to landfills, and the remainder was recycled.

Beads from Rena
Beads from Rena that have been washing up on shores at Matakana Island.
Maritime New Zealand ©2021

Over 580 tonnes of liquid waste had been processed and removed for disposal by an environmental company.

For the same period, 637 damaged containers had been brought to port from the vessel and recovered from beaches and the shoreline.

About 300 Braemar Howells staff and contractors have been working on the debris and container clean-up operations, in locations as far north as Coromandel’s Slipper Island, south to Cape Runaway and across to Gisborne. Their work includes debris removal and manning of vessels, waste disposal, and transport and crane operation.

On-scene Operations Manager Claudene Sharp says Braemar Howells has drawn on its “extensive experience, holistic support and asset bases” to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to the challenges Rena has presented so far.

Claudene says that although the work has been gruelling at times, there have been many success stories. Highlights are the speedy clean-up of Waihi Beach, heli-lifting rubbish to a waiting barge off Motiti Island, establishing a specialised facility to deal with damaged containers and perished cargo, and appointing iwi liaison representatives. She says many of the successes are based on building good relationships with district and regional councils, and with local communities.

At Waihi, 177 tonnes of debris was removed from the popular beach in just four days. Braemar Howells’ recovery team swung into action with heavy machinery and labour teams when 17 containers washed ashore. The debris ranged from badly damaged containers to packets of milk powder and timber.

Damaged containers, including those lifted off Rena by salvors, are taken to a special facility in Mount Maunganui. The plant is fully equipped to enable rapid and safe processing of damaged containers and perished cargo. Features of the facility are bays for de-oiling containers, and deodorising water-mist sprays along its perimeter fences.

Milk powder
Milk powder is removed from a container.
Maritime New Zealand ©2021

Activating ‘hubs’ along the coast is another of Braemar Howells’ innovations, under the leadership of on-scene Operations Manager, Neil Lloyd. These small coordination centres for debris collection are run by iwi and local workers. Wherever containers or debris wash ashore, hubs mobilise to reduce the impact on small coastal communities as swiftly as possible.

Braemar/Unimar staff expect to be kept busy in coming months, with clean-up operations in various localities. Clearing Matakana Island of container remains and debris has a high priority, while the task of refloating containers located on the seabed is yet to be tackled.

Current activities include heli-lifting debris to waiting barges, using specialised underwater equipment to locate submerged containers, diving to inspect containers on the seabed, having debris inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and meeting with iwi ... it’s business as usual for Braemar Howells.

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