31 Dec 2014

Slow recovery after Rena wreck

6:59 am on 31 December 2014

One of New Zealand's worst maritime and environmental disasters, the sinking of the Rena off the coast of Mt Maunganui, dominated headlines in the Bay of Plenty again in 2014.

Containers and other cargo will not be taken off until all the oil is transferred.

An NZ Defence Force photo showing the grounded ship, shortly after the incident took place on 5 October 2011. Photo: NZ DEFENCE FORCE

The Liberian-flagged vessel hit the Astrolabe Reef more than three years ago but the issue won't be put to rest yet, with a resource consent hearing by commissioners appointed by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council expected to take place in early 2015.

Wreck owners Daina Shipping have set up a trust, the Astrolabe Community Trust, to apply for resource consent to leave most of the wreck where it is.

The trust put forward several expert reports about the environmental and cultural effects of leaving the wreck on the reef to support its application.

The Government also sought its own independent reports, which Radio New Zealand News was alerted to in September following an Official Information Act request.

The reports, by London Offshore Consultants (LOC) and external consultant Dr Grant Young, shed new light on what the Government knew before it decided to only partially oppose the owners' resource consent application.

The Rena in April 2013

An aerial shot of the remains of the wreck on the reef one-and-a-half years later, in April 2013. Photo: RNZ

Work is continuing to retrieve container debris from the ocean.

At the end of 2014, work was continuing to retrieve container debris from the wrecked ship from the ocean. Photo: RENA PROJECT

The urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing held in Tauranga.

The Waitangi Tribunal released its report into the Rena following an urgent hearing (pictured) in Tauranga earlier in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Natalie Mankelow

The Rena reports

The LOC's report said the container ship's owners had grossly exaggerated the timescale and costs of removing the wreck. It estimated that full wreck removal would cost between $US422 million and $US540 million and would take more than five years.

LOC said if an offer of full wreck removal was put out to international tender "then solutions would be offered that may prove to be far less costly".

However, the Crown argued the statements in the LOC report were not black and white.

More on the fallout from the reports

The Government had also commissioned Dr Young, to review the cultural assessment carried out by the Rena's owners.

The owners' report suggested there was debate amongst tangata whenua about what should happen to the wreck. It said most iwi had stated that it should be removed but it also said there was conditional support for the wreck to remain.

But Dr Young's review said that statement was vague - and suggested the report's writer may have made claims about differences of opinion to try to make the iwi opinion look unclear.

The Rena Tribunal

The Waitangi Tribunal has also released its report into a claim by two Motiti Island groups that they were left out of talks over the Rena.

The Motiti Rohemoana Trust and Ngai te Hapu o Motiti want the whole wreck removed.

The Waitangi Tribunal said Motiti Island Maori were prejudicially affected by $27.4 million settlement deal the Government signed with the Rena's owners.

It recommended the Crown actively participate in the resource consent process and help Maori participate as well.

Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui - pictured on the morning after an overnight vigil was held for missing boy Jack Dixon Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

The search for little Jack

On 1 October, the parents of five-year-old Jack Dixon received the kind of call which is every parent's nightmare. Jack had been swept out to sea while playing with cousins around the base of Mauao, watched over by his grandmother and aunt.

A photo of Jack Dixon released by his parents. They say it's their favourite one.

Jack Dixon Photo: Karen Spargo and Wayne Dixon

Surf lifesavers, land search and rescue staff and police scoured the coast for days looking for him.

Conditions on the day he was swept away were rough and, while the search continued, surfers were being routinely pulled from the waves. It was the school holidays and children were playing on the beach but parents were keeping them away from the water.

In a statement from Jack's parents, Wayne Dixon and Karen Spargo, we found out Jack had turned five just a month earlier and was fond of bikes, Lego and rugby.

They were shocked, upset and lost at what had happened but thanked the community for their help and support.

The community had rallied together and brought food and supplies to the surfclub for Jack's family and the searchers.

Candlelight vigils were also held and candles, teddy bears and toy cars were left in hollows in the sand.

Little Jack's story left a scar on members of the community but he also brought them together.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush with Tuhoe spokesperson Tamati Kruger.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush with Tuhoe spokesperson Tamati Kruger during the former's trip to make the apology. Photo: RNZ / Graeme Acton

Tuhoe's year

Bay of Plenty iwi Tuhoe received three historic apologies in 2014 - apologies they say will help shape their future.

The iwi's heartland is Te Urewera Ranges where, in 2007, police swooped in and set up illegal road blocks and detained innocent residents looking for evidence that people were involved in military style training camps in the forest.

In May 2012, Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were jailed for two-and-a-half years for possessing firearms and a Molotov cocktail. The following month, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey were sentenced to nine months of home detention on the same charges.

The jury could not reach a verdict on the charge of participation in an organised criminal group.

But the hurt that was left in the community lasted longer than the prison sentences.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush travelled to Tuhoe territory to apologise - first to individual families who were caught up in the raids, and then to a Tuhoe marae to apologise to the whole iwi.

That was followed by an apology from the Crown for brutally taking the iwi's land and killing their ancestors in the 1800s and 1900s. The apology was included as part of the tribe's $170 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

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