Monday, 7 November 2011

m/v RENA salvage - First Person Log

In the early hours of October 5th, the container ship 'Rena' went aground at full sea speed on Astrolabe Reef, north-east of the port of Tauranga, New Zealand. AIS data suggests that the Officer of the Watch altered the vessel's course to make directly for the Pilot Station. Unfortunately for him (and the ship) there was a well charted reef between him and the Pilot!

A shipmate of the Antipodean Mariner has been 'picked up off the beach' for the salvage operation, and has kindly agreed for his first person log to be posted here. The log starts with the mobilisation of the dynamically-positioned AHTS 'Go Canopus' to support the salvage...


I am due to join the vessel ‘GO Canopus’ on Saturday [22nd October] as part of the salvage operation for the containership RENA. I am intending to put out an informal brief daily update so that you can understand firsthand what is going on.

22nd October
Hi all.
It is the end of a very busy day.
The NZ crew joined the GO Canopus in Tauranga today (22nd) after a few hours of safety inductions. We are due to sail tonight, after loading 16 empty 20 foot ISO tank containers on the back deck.
We will replace the small fuel barge that is currently moored at the stern of the RENA as she has to return to her normal role of delivering fuel to ships in port.
The RENA is aground on a Westerly heading. We will set up using dynamic positioning, 10 metres off her port 1/4 (at her stern on the port side) and the salvors will pump the fuel from the RENA to the ISO containers on our deck.
When all 16 tanks are full, then we will return to port and swap out the full tank containers for some empty ones, then repeat the operation until no more fuel can be pumped from her.
When you see it all on the evening news, then it become clear to you.
It should be a quicker operation than utilising the small tanker, as the transfer hose will be much shorter, therefore less friction from the cold oil, hopefully giving a better transfer rate. Not allowed to take or transmit photos sorry - one of the contractual clauses.

23rd October
We eventually left Tauranga about 22:00 last night after a very long day.
We spent today undertaking DP (Dynamic Positioning) trials, emergency muster and preparing the deck equipment for receiving first oil from the Rena. The salvors meanwhile are rigging some bigger discharge hoses on board the Rena, to allow a faster discharge rate to us, than to the Awanuia.

The ‘GO Canopus’ is a 64 meters long supply boat, 10,700 shaft horse power, utilising 2 bow thrusters, one stern thruster and 2 main engines for position keeping. The DP operating system is CONVERTEAM, which is new to me. A bit like using a Mac for the first time after using Windows.
We will be setting up towards the stern of the Rena, as that is the only area where there is clear deep water to enable us to manoeuvre.
A news helicopter buzzed us this morning, filming as it went. It seemed very odd looking down at helicopter from the bridge wing.
Weather is lovely and calm and ideal for our first day out. Ideally it will be the same when we commence fuel transfer operations.
The 16 tank containers on board each have capacity of 24,000 litres when 100% full, so theoretically we could take 360 tonnes of fuel off her each time out here. It would thus take 4 return trips out here to drain her fuel, although there will be a considerable quantity of un-pumpable oil remaining on board thereafter. Hopefully she will hold together long enough to enable us to complete the task. The weather gods have been very kind so far. They are not always so.
As a mariner, it is not a nice feeling looking at a fully laden ship listing heavily and aground. Like looking at dead whale I guess.
While getting the oil off the Rena before she breaks in two is the priority, removal of the containers is also being planned, however that is a separate operation to ours. It will be a serious challenge for them to remove some of the containers at the stern which now appear to be almost horizontal. The twist locks holding them together were never designed for that type of force and will be impossible to unlock in that position.

A crane barge has been sourced to commence unloading them, but because of the limited amount of clear water depth around the Rena, it is unlikely that unloading of fuel and containers can be undertaken simultaneously.
We managed to get good enough TV signal to watch the Rugby World Cup final. Everyone was happy about that.

24th October
It has been a beautiful day out here in the sunny Bay of Plenty, so I don't have much news to add.
The salvors have decided to make the most of the good weather, so are continuing their fuel transfer operations to the Awanuia, rather than risk any delay or interruption in transferring the operation to us. It also allows them extra time to set up additional transfer hoses, to allow a better rate of transfer to us, when we get alongside.
There is also a possibility that we may shoot back into port on Tuesday to load some fresh water for the Rena salvage personnel, to use as cooling water for their oil transfer pumps, compressors and generators.
Once the weather deteriorates in a day or so, then the Awanuia will depart the scene and we will assume the receiving role from the Rena.
There were three helicopters in the air and a total of nine vessels out here today, so it was a busy little patch of water.
There must be many businesses in Tauranga doing very well out of this incident, but obviously not all.
The day was spend familiarising ourselves with the planned operation, checking equipment and documenting the risk assessment for the planned operation. Must get the paperwork completed correctly.

25th October
Hello everyone from sunny Tauranga.
It was another lovely sunny & clear day in the Bay of Plenty today. So clear in fact that we could quite clearly see the active volcanic activity of white island, over 30 miles away. I was very surprised as to how much smoke was belching out from there.
This afternoon we went alongside the port 1/4 of the Rena, 10 metres from her and discharged some fresh water to the salvors. I think that they are using it as cooling water for their hydraulic systems and they have used all that was available on the Rena.
Our stern was level with the aft (rear) end of her accommodation. I was on the stern of the GO Canopus calling the distances to go as we approached stern first. The shallow water around her was easily discernable by the opaque blue colour change. She is certainly well and truly aground and will not be coming off the reef of her own accord.
I can't visualise how a crane barge will be able to gain access to remove any containers forward of the Rena's accommodation. Perhaps Mother Nature will solve the problem in the next big blow and remove them all.
The small tanker Awanuia was close alongside us. Her stint out here at the Rena might be coming to an end soon, but she has done very well. She has tug boat at her stern, providing static tow, to keep tension on the mooring lines and so prevent her bow from hitting the stern of the Rena.
There was an obvious oil slick emanating from her today and two smaller vessels had deployed a floating oil boom to try and contain it. Farting against thunder I suspect, however they have to try. I guess they have some type of skimmer or surface vacuum to recover the contained oil, but they were not close enough to us for me to see that in operation.
After discharging water we then proceeded back to Tauranga to load some more and get some more hoses and equipment for the salvage operation.
We will probably be departing back to the Rena, either tonight or tomorrow morning.

26th October
We spend the night in the port of Tauranga, berthed at the old Union Company Roll on Roll off berth. We loaded more fresh water for the Rena, along with more transfer hose (with floatation collars attached) and some more tow rope for the harbour tug that is doing the static tow on the Awanuia. Obviously their towing bridle is becoming a little chafed after providing a constant towing force for two weeks. Harbour tugs and their equipment are not designed for such continual use.
There were also three of the smaller oil spill support vessels back in port to load the surface skimmers and other oil recovery equipment. These aluminium hulled boats were designed and built for the mussel farming industry from Coromandel. They are very practical and good looking work boats which have a big clear deck area, a small Hiab crane and small overside gantry davits. At first glance their dimensions do seem out of proportion, but they are perfect work platforms to store and deploy floating oil booms, oil skimmers and to store 1000 litre bulk drums of recovered oil sludge. It will be a long and arduous process for them though and no doubt not the most pleasant at times.
We showed some of their personnel around the GO Canopus and they were most appreciative of seeing another side to the project. We are all on the same team after all and a little good will goes along way. Who knows, they may sling a meal of fresh fish over our rail one morning. That would be nice.
We left Tauranga this afternoon and are now back on location at the Rena and will be delivering the rope to the tug and water to the Rena. We have a two tonne crane on our port side amidships, that has a 15 metre boom. It is ideal for transferring small cargo parcels to other vessels.
The water we are delivering to Rena is to be used for water injection into the oil discharge line, to reduce the viscosity and improve the flow rate through the discharge hose. Much the same principle as the gas lift injection we utilised to enhance flow rates and well performance, while I as on the Crystal Ocean.
Of course this water injection also increases the volume of emulsified oil that needs to be stored on board.
We have also been advised that some of the salvors will soon be living aboard us overnight. I guess a hot meal, shower and tv on here would now seem a luxury to those that have been staying overnight on the dead ship Rena. They will be transferred daily between us and the Rena, via a rigid inflatable work boat that is operating in field.
I would hate to guess what the daily cost is for all of this. Personnel, hotel bills, helicopters, support boats and shipping charter costs are not cheap, so the NZ taxpayer will end up footing a phenomenal bill for it all, possibly in the vicinity of half a million dollars per day. No doubt that will all come out during the upcoming electioneering and grandstanding.
That is all from the sunny Bay of Plenty

27th October
It was a lovely start to the day this morning. A pod of three Orca whales were seen close by, just cruising around, obviously content, well fed and unaffected by the drama unfolding around them. We could tell by the size of their fins that there was one mature one, one baby and the third a juvenile. There seems to be an abundance of fish in the water as well, so don't believe everything that you read in the press about an environmental disaster. The aquatic locals seem to be thriving, although bird life is rather sparse. Shows that fish are smarter than birds. We were scheduled to be alongside the Rena at 09:00 to discharge more fresh water to them. However this was cancelled for reasons unknown to us.
So we transferred no water, nor loaded any oil. Our oil transfer hose and pump is all rigged up on deck ready to go. Just waiting for the word.
There appeared to be some issues with pumping of oil from the Rena to the Awanuia today, as the hourly transfer rate was reduced to a mere trickle. So far the Awanuia has received 822 cubic metres of HFO (heavy fuel oil), so they are over half way through the operation. However the remaining HFO and diesel will take longer to remove, as it is in smaller tanks in the engine room, with more difficult access and a longer more torturous route for it to be pumped. I suspect that the rate of transfer will thus decline, meaning there will still be several weeks more of transferring oil, before a start is made on removing any containers.
All on the bridge have now become familiar and confident with operating the "Converteam" DP system. After 12 years of using a Kongsberg SDP 21 system, even I have come to terms with the vagaries of this one.
An electrician, 2nd cook and a steward joined today, in anticipation of the eight extra salvors joining us over the next couple of days. While our accommodation is not flash, it has to be better than sleeping on the open deck on the Rena.
Contrary to press reports, Rena has not yet broken up. However the major crack on her port side in the vicinity of Number 2 hatch has become noticeably bigger with more shiny buckled steel being exposed. This crack now extends to below the waterline. Like a piece of fencing wire that is constantly bent back and forwards, it will eventually break.
Whether the stern sinks immediately or remains afloat depends on both the Engine-room and aft container hatch retaining their watertight integrity. At the moment she is buoyant aft, as both spaces are still intact and are over deep water. That she is still buoyant aft, is exacerbating the cracking in the hull at the forward end, as the stern rises and falls imperceptibly with each passing swell, weakening the steel structure with every movement.
Electronic sensors have been placed on board to monitor this movement, but I am not privy to the results.
The weather is deteriorating slightly from the previous few days, with the swell become more noticeable; hence it is but a matter of time until she breaks in two. No doubt it will be a most dramatic occurrence. Hopefully it will occur in daylight on my watch, so that I can be a first hand witness. A once in a lifetime occurrence.
It will no doubt make a mess though, with containers and oil strewn asunder. Watch this space.

28th October
It was Groundhog Day today, with more "standby to standby" stuff from the Rena.
We moved in to 100 metres from her port quarter and sat there until 09:30 when they told us that we were not required for the moment.
There was some drama off the port of Tauranga though, as another containership "Schelde Trader" hit the bricks. Not sure of the circumstances, however there is no major damage that I am aware of.
It has certainly not been a good month for containership operators running into the port of Tauranga.
Contrary to what has been promulgated in the press and from the politicians, we have yet to receive a single drop of oil from the Rena. They are continuing the pumping operations to the Awanuia, which currently has just over 1,000 cubic metres of HFO on board. Her charter has been extended through until at least Monday. They are still pumping from the settling and daily service tanks in the engine room and should be finished them by tomorrow. It must be diesel they are pumping from those tanks, as the transfer rate jumped to 18 cubic metres per hour. A vast improvement on the 4 cubic metres per hour they had been achieving with the HFO transfer.
Once the engine room tanks have been drained, then the salvors will move on to the starboard side tanks. That will be very challenging, as although the tanks are intact, they are underwater. My understanding is that they will attempt to form a watertight cofferdam in the under deck trunking, which runs the length of the ship. The cofferdam will probably be sealed with an inflatable bladder, prior to the water being pumped out, to allow personnel to access the lids to the remaining fuel tanks.
It would be a real bugger of a risk assessment and JSA, prior to undertaking that job wouldn't it!?
The tug "Waka Kume" which is providing the static tow on the Awanuia, is running very low on fresh water. She is a harbour tug, which has been out here since before we arrived on the scene. She is not designed for significant periods at sea. She will come alongside us tomorrow so that we can top up her fresh water tanks. We will no doubt throw them some fresh fruit and other stores to keep them content, as this period at sea on constant towing duties must be very tedious and mind sapping. They certainly would not be used to it for such a long period.
Until now the weather gods have been extraordinarily benign to the salvors, environment and people of the Bay of Plenty. However we are keeping a close eye on a low that appears to be developing off the Queensland coast, near Lord Howe Island. Worst case scenario is that it could throw some nasty North Easterlies into the Bay of Plenty in 3 or 4 days time. That could be the final straw that breaks the Rena camel’s back.....literally.
We are currently experiencing steady north easterlies 15 - 18 knots, with the forecast, more of the same. These conditions exacerbate the movement of the stern of the Rena and makes it too rough for the small oil recovery vessels to operate. So I expect significant oil to be washed up on the beaches of Papamoa and Mt Maunganui over the next 72 hours, albeit lighter than the initial heavy spill.

30th October
Well after the groundhog days of recent times, today was anything but.
After many days of "stand down we don't require you", today was "stop what you're doing, get your arse into town, unload those tank containers and get yourself ready for towing".
Those of you with experience in the offshore industry will no doubt understand exactly what kind of a day it has been. Thank goodness for the neuron zinging caffeine injection from my industrial strength black coffee. Yep, nothing has changed there.
We started the day in close to the Rena, on her starboard 1/4, in preparation to transfer one end of the 6" hose to her and the other end to the Awanuia. The salvage personnel were not quite ready for us, so we relocated to the port side of the Awanuia, to transfer some fresh water to them. We had been pumping fresh water to them for about 20 minutes, when we got the call to stop everything and proceed into port, to clear our deck in preparation for towing.
Finally somebody on the beach had connected the dots to realise that the weakened Rena would not survive the forecast weather and it might just be prudent to rig and connect a towing bridle from the stern of the Rena. Jim the weatherman could have told them that.
48 hours behind the 8 ball, but better late than never I guess.
After our turbo port visit, we arrived back on location at 20:00 and had our tow wire connected to the stern of the Rena at 23:00.
The troops did very, very well and put in a huge amount of OT without a grizzle. Had a good initial toolbox meeting, followed by several stop, step back 5 x 5 chats. Very professional and the salvage master on board was most impressed, particularly in light of us having had just 10 hours notice and no one having used our towing gear before.
Of course it would have been nice to do it all on a nice sunny day in calm weather.
Not so of course, as those of you in the offshore industry know only too well.
Weather had started to deteriorate by the evening. 20+ knot winds on the port beam, rain and salt spray across the aft deck and the noisy thrashing of the stern thruster, screaming its protest at being asked to perform above 80% for a prolonged period. All this being overseen by the omnipresent foreboding spectre of the dark stern of a dying queen, crowned with that gravity defying cantilever of suspended containers; barely 10 metres from our stern roller. Most surreal.
I had thought that my days of getting covered in grease and shit and dragging wires, ropes and tools around the deck of a supply boat, were long past me.
Alas not so.
I must be a sadistic bugger though, as I have to confess to a certain sense of enjoyment and satisfaction in getting stuck into a job like this. It sure beats the hell out of being welded to a computer for 12 hours.
We are now the proud owner of 40,000 tonnes of scrap steel, rotting meat patties and cow hides. Any takers?
She is currently 400 metres astern of us, and faintly illuminated by our search light. The tow is made up of chain links, 2 wire pennants and 292 metres of 76 mm diameter wire, paid off our main tow winch.
She is still on a Westerly heading, while we are off her starboard 1/4, with our nose pointed into a 20 knot North-easterly.
We are not intending to pull her off the reef, just maintain a static tow, trying to hold her stern where it is. If the stern sinks immediately she breaks up, we will still remain connected to her, but be quite safe, as our tow wire is much longer than the water is deep. If an emergency arises, we can always gas axe the towing wire.
The sixty four million dollar question (2 actually), is when will she break in two and will the stern remain afloat.
That would be a good sweepstake at work, instead of the Melbourne cup.
My guess is 03:00 Wednesday morning when the weather peaks. I would prefer it to be in daylight of course, to be able to witness this once in a lifetime spectacle and to describe it to you.
The stern section will capsize almost immediately, but possibly float for several hours thereafter, before sinking. We will endeavour to tow her to a nearby shoal patch, should the opportunity arise.
By this time tomorrow, we will all be the wiser. Unfortunately however, the magnificent picturesque environment of the Bay of Plenty, will most likely be the poorer.
Until tomorrow then.

1st November
As I start to write this at 21:00, Rena is still in 1 piece. I have $20 on with one of the salvage team that she will be broken up by morning.
The old man knocked me off at 10:00 this morning. It had been a while since I had seen my bunk.
I slept all day and had a can of coke and a chocolate biscuit for breakfast, when I awoke at 20:00. The breakfast food of champions ;-) Desperately needed the sugar hit after the efforts of yesterday. I'll save the super-strong caffeine infusion for when I go on watch at midnight.
Then back to the mundane, had to do my laundry, as I was down to my last pair of socks and undies. Time for a linen change too.
We are still punching in to the North easter. Dancing around a fair bit, but it is not too uncomfortable. Just a gentle zephyr really, compared with some of the storms we weathered in Bass Strait on the Crystal Ocean. Mind you, we didn't have 40,000 tonnes of scrap steel hanging off our stern then.
The salvage master has given instructions that we steadily bring up the power, so that by midnight we are exerting 50 tonnes of bollard pull on the tow wire.
The GO Canopus is a twin screw 11,000 horse power anchor handling tug, rated at 110 tonnes of bollard pull, so we will be operating at about 50% power. The tow winch is on a brake, so we don't measure the force from that, but from 2 sources of data output on the DP console on the bridge.
The main engines are configured into the DP system and their thrust force output is displayed in tonnes on the computer screen. When each propeller is pushing out 25 tonnes of force, viola, 50 tonnes bollard pull.
In addition, the Converteam DP system, displays current as a tonnes force measurement, rather than in knots like the Kongsberg system.
The reading is not true current, but a summation of all of the unknown forces acting on the vessel. The system does not know that we have 40,000 tonnes of steel on our arse, that is firmly welded to New Zealand. It has engine input data, showing that we are exerting an awful lot of force and should be moving over the ground at a commensurate speed.
It calculates that if we are not doing that speed, then we must be stemming a current of a force equal to the engine output (minus the wind speed force input).
So for the 50 tonnes thrust force the main engine output shows, the Converteam "Kongsberg current" should display a similar figure.
I hope that is not too technical for some of you. If so, just think of it as "white man’s magic" – that’s easier. We were buzzed by a chopper at about 09:30 this morning as I was down aft checking the tow wire. It zoomed in very low and loud. Not sure if it was Maritime NZ checking up on us, the salvors or news hounds, but it did appear to have a decent camera mounted on it.
The salvage master advised us this morning, that yesterday prior to them abandoning the Rena, another large crack had appeared on the starboard side of the hull, immediately forward of the accommodation. This is in the vicinity of the starboard side fuel tank, where the remaining 350 cubic metres of HFO is stored. Sunrise could reveal one hell of a mess, even if she has remained relatively intact. No doubt the morning air will be abuzz with choppers observing the overnight carnage. He also said that she was very noisy on board, with the incessant screeching of protesting steel and grinding containers.
I had always thought that a wreck would be ghostly quiet somehow. I know that the dying screeches of any animal are never the most pleasant and I guess that Rena is no different. Protesting that she is still alive, while trying to ignore the mortal wounds she has suffered.
I must be getting soft, as I seem to have a sad affinity for her. It's never nice to watch anything die and a once proud ship is no different. The photograph of the Wahine lying on her side in Wellington harbour springs to mind.
Enough of the melancholy. I'll send you an update come first light.
You'll get the news from me before you get it from Petra, Rachel or Lee [on TVNZ News].

Good morning all,
In the dim nautical twilight, 500 metres away, the silhouette of the Rena is becoming apparent, as the weather eases to a 20 knot northerly.
The gyroscopic indicator sensors on board her and relayed to us, are indicating that she is still resting at 22 degrees, albeit the stern is bouncing around a bit, both in pitch and roll.
So I am $20 out of pocket, as she is still afloat and still in one piece. Ces't la vie.
Obviously full daylight will reveal the true extent of loss, in both containers and heavy fuel oil.
No doubt the air will then abuzz with choppers, like blowflies around a week old sheep carcass.
Will update you later in the morning

The morning fog finally cleared at 09:30, revealing no obvious significant addition damage, nor much container loss. There was a faint oil trail leading south towards Motiti Island however.
The 3 metre swells are rolling down her starboard deck, up to the hatch coamings and high tide is due at 13:12.
Only time will tell.

2nd November
After the drama and effort of the previous two days (& nights), today was rather an anti climax.
The Rena rose majestically defiant out of the dense morning fog at about 0930. The sea will inevitably claim its prize, but not today.
Prior to that, there were times we completely lost sight of her at 500 metres range. As suspected, the air soon filled with choppers and fixed wing, like rubber-neckers at a motorway pile up.

We also had two helo personnel winch transfers from our aft deck, as the salvage team members, returned to the Rena to reassess her condition. They will only resume oil transfer operations, when they are reassured that it is safe for their personnel to enter the spaces with difficult access.
I am not sure where the 5 metre overnight swell prediction originated from though, as the met-ocean forecasts we received always promulgated 30 knot winds and 2.5 metre swells. Perhaps officialdom was trying to pad out the figures to prime the NZ public for the morning disaster. Very lapse of the press to not latch onto such a blatant porky.
The Dutch salvage rep gleefully accepted my $20 when he came to the bridge, although he magnanimously give me until 18:00, just in case the heavy North-eastery swell managed to complete, what the 35 knot winds couldn't. It was most impressive to watch the grey 3 metre swells, rolling forward down the main deck, smashing themselves against the coamings of the ships hatches. At high tide, the entire starboard side sheer strake appeared to be well underwater; however appearances were deceiving, as the sensors on board the Rena showed her list unchanged at 22 degrees.

The ‘GO Canopus’ has performed very well as a tow vessel, with main engines, thrusters and DP system all coping. However we are wallowing around something awful, due to the swell coming from the North east and the wind now from the North-west. We are splitting the forces and are on a northerly heading to make the most efficient use of the thrusters to balance the tow forces, currently set at about 15 tonnes. I don't think anyone is sleeping very well, if at all and shaving is certainly out of the question.
There is another small blow forecast for Friday, however, being a Westerly, it is offshore, hence will not affect us as much. Thereafter it is light Westerlies, so it should give the salvors ample opportunity to resume their operations, should the Rena still be structurally sound enough to do so.
They have said that she really stinks out on deck now, with rotting blood and meat juice oozing from the dozens of fridge and freezer containers, hat once held prime export beef, mutton, fish and dairy products. A true cross section of NZ's export products now represented by nothing more than an offensive smell, a health hazard with a high probability of enhancing an injury by slipping. They have had to rig tarpaulins over some of their work sites, to keep the rotting ooze from dripping on them.
Not the most pleasant work site one could imagine and a labour department health inspector would have a field day. I suspect that the salvors would make them as welcome as Yasser Arafat in downtown Tel Aviv.
That’s all from Astrolabe reef today.

3rd November
Well I can't say the day was boring.
I started my day at midnight, continuing with the static tow on the Rena. The wind eased throughout the morning and continued to back round to the WNW.
Just before 10:00 we received instructions from the salvage master to cease the static tow, recover our tow wire, then proceed into Tauranga and reload the 16 ISO tank containers and oil transfer hoses.
We recovered the wire and were disconnected by noon.
While close in to the stern of the Rena for disconnection, we noticed a significant trail of oil streaming away to the South East. The North West wind had saved the Mt Maunganui and Papamoa beaches this time, however it will most likely end up in the vicinity of Whakatane.
The oil was not the same thick glutinous HFO that had washed up several weeks ago, but significantly lighter in consistency, more like a thin light fuel oil (LFO) or marine diesel.
The good news is that this lighter oil should evaporate and break up naturally in the prevailing weather conditions, so should not cause the same level of environmental damage to either beaches or shite hawks.
The prevailing weather is forecast to come from the west for the next week or so, so hopefully the pristine white beaches of the bay will survive relatively unscathed.
On the short voyage into town I had to ballast the after peaks, to bring the stern lower in the water. I had forgotten what it is like to grovel around in the engine room and steering flat of a supply boat. They are designed for hobbits and dwarves. Thank goodness for hard hats and grade 7 peltor ear muffs.
Perhaps if the idiot who designed it, was forced to work in the engine-room for a year, he would have a greater appreciation of the ergonomic requirements of the engine-room spaces. I empathise with those who work below.
The port visit was great. I managed a shave and some quality sleep. Such are the simple pleasures of life on a supply boat.
We are now back on location, fully loaded with tanks and transfer hoses, waiting for the morning and further instructions from the salvage master. The Awanuia and tug Waka Kume are also in field, after a 2 day respite in port. I am not sure who will have priority in the morning, but no doubt there is a plan.
Spare a thought for the salvage team. Apparently the stench of rotting flesh is now all pervasive on board the Rena, with many of them retching continually in certain work areas. The blowflies have also now found this sensory paradise, so on top of the smell and the slip hazard, the poor buggers on board now have to put up with these hairy bombers landing on them and the incessant drone of their gorging and breeding in an orgy of unrestrained gluttony.
Not a very nice place to work at all and certainly not for the squeamish. Apparently a case of fly spray was amongst the salvage gear recently choppered out.
That’s all from Astrolabe reef today

4th November
It was yet another hectic day at Astrolabe reef.
We stood off the Rena overnight to await the weather to ease. Took the opportunity to do some DP checks to determine additional DGPS signal blind spots.. It is a real bugger losing a diff signal when one is undertaking a critical operation on a certain heading. Always best to be aware of what ships heading to not be on, prior to undertaking the close quarters task.
We waited until the tanker Awanuia was reconnected at the stern of the Rena, then moved in very close to the starboard 1/4 of the Rena, to await the arrival on board of the salvage master. It was too rough for him to transfer by boat, so he was winched down from the squirrel helicopter, arriving like James Bond, to save the world. After a thorough tool box talk with all involved, we moved in closer, to begin to transfer the 6" hose to the stern of the Rena. I was on the aft deck, calling the closing distances to the bridge. We stopped at 6 metres from the corner roller on her poop deck.
From there I had a great view of the destruction wrought on her deck cargo and caught several whiffs of the smell that the salvors had been referring to. One of the split containers closest to me and immediately above to poop deck, had once been an operational 40 foot freezer container, in which frozen "Mrs Macs" meat pies had been dutifully stowed for export. The salvors will forever and a day refer to them as "Mrs Macs maggot packs", as the entire 40 footer is now alive with crawlies.
Prior to working on the poop, the salvors had to run a fire pump, to hose the deck down and wash the mass of maggots overboard.
The fish are getting very fat and thriving out here. I have never seen so many schools of fish shoaling. Obviously they have benefitted from the glut of food, lack of aerial predators and the exclusion zone preventing fishing.. Other than the large lump of scrap steel atop, acting as a very efficient radar reflector, the marine life around the reef appears to be showing no adverse symptoms, rather, it is thriving.
After successfully transferring one end of the hose to the Rena, we then moved out thirty metres and transferred the other end to the Awanuia, with the assistance of a small Naiad work boat and a thirty metre poly prop messenger.
The entire operation went very smoothly, without incident.
We were then dismissed from her starboard 1/4 and proceeded to her port side, level with the front of her accommodation, where her fuel bunkering point is located. This is the point where the 4" oil transfer line to the GO Canopus is to be connected.
The plan went south soon after, when one of the salvors on the Rena, allocated for this task, slipped and was injured. No points for guessing what he slipped on.
Our oil tanks thus remain empty.
There was a notable trail of caramel coloured oil originating from the forward end of the starboard side of the Rena today. The westerly wind continues to blow it out to sea, well away from the beaches and islands. It is currently bowing 30 knots from the West, so Mother Nature is doing her best to assist in this clean up. The wind and wave action are doing a marvellous job in breaking it all up. These conditions are forecast to continue for another few days.
That is all from Astrolabe reef today.

5th November
The wind was our friend today. It blew continually between 20 & 30 knots from the West to South West, pushing the ongoing caramel trail of oil to the East and well out to sea. The oil is still seeping from the crack in her hull on the starboard side, in the vicinity of number 2 hold.
A white squirrel chopper buzzed us soon after day break, then headed East, following the trail into the distance.
This crack in the hull on the Rena’s starboard side has now reached across the deck and has sheared the hatch coaming at no 2 hold, so it will only be a section of the double bottoms and the lattice work of containers within the hold, that are holding her together.
Several of the non marine salvage crew on board here, said that the grinding noise at number 2 hold has become significantly louder and that they could feel the rocking motion of the Rena, more so than before. So the blow of last week certainly took its toll. They have an mpeg video of their inspection, which I have yet to see.
A must see viewing for tomorrow.
Other than sending the oil trail eastwards, the wind hampered the salvage operation, by causing postponement of both helicopter & small boat operations this morning.
All but one small boat operations that is. We noticed a grey inflatable, belting its way flat out into the Westerly chop, often disappearing amidst a plume of self generated spray. Commented "what kind of fool is out here doing that?"
Scrutiny with binoculars revealed black masked men wearing grey helmets.
It was the grey funnel line, practising to save the Rena from unscrupulous treasure hunters and over eager fishermen. They rendezvoused with the HMNZS Hawea soon thereafter.
It certainly was not the ideal weather to be playing "cut lunch commando" and I am sure that they were all most relieved to get back on board to have a hot bowl of soup. There would have been hell to pay if that little exercise had gone bad. Starting with "what the hell were you thinking, launching the boat in those conditions?"
Rest easy NZ, the grey funnel line have our backs covered, come rain or shine ;-) The conditions put paid to us closing up to the Rena to transfer our hose to receive oil. Hopefully tomorrow.
The Awanuia is currently receiving lube oil from the Rena. The transfer rate is far from impressive, but every drop counts and lube oil does not dissipate in the wind and waves in the same manner that fuel oil does.
The Rena has recently become lit up at night, with the accommodation and deck lights now turned on, to assist the night shift salvors. They have hot wired one of their generators into the ships main distribution board, allowing them to utilise some of the Rena’s electrical equipment. The most important of these are the small fuel oil and lube oil transfer pumps in the engine-room, which allow them to transfer and consolidate oil from the settling and daily service tanks in the engine-room, as the pipe work there is still intact.
It is one of these (probably the sludge, or fuel oil transfer pump) that will be used to pump oil to us, via the ships manifold on the port side.
My apologies if the above explanation is a bit technical for my non maritime readers.
The fire pump is another pump that they have brought into service. Not so much as a precaution for fire, but to keep the aft deck awash from the open fire hydrants, to flush the maggots overboard. The salvors affectionately refer to this fire pump as "the maggot pump"!
Fuel for the salvors generator is choppered out almost daily, in 200 litre drums slung in a cage beneath one of the bigger machines. While some businesses in Tauranga may be suffering, the helicopter operators are not one of them.
That is all from Astrolabe reef today.

6th November
I am totally unaware of to how many people this blog is eventually forwarded on to, nor how many read it, but hope that you are all finding the saga of the Rena salvage interesting, regardless of your walk of life.
My challenge is to make it technically accurate, without getting bogged down in technical marine details, so that it is both interesting and entertaining.
Hopefully I have the right balance, as it is going out to experienced mariners throughout NZ, Australia, SE Asia & Scotland, as well as to auto technicians, Fonterra shift workers at Kauri, the legal and teaching fraternities, as well as the wider farming community. So I have a broad range of backgrounds to cater to.
It must be going to someone in Russia too, as I was spammed by three Russian ladies last night, all wanting to marry me.
Such is the life of a seafarer!
Thanks for the offer Yuliya, but no thanks.
It was a beautiful morning this morning, with a light westerly blowing. The oil sheen drifting eastward was much lighter than that observed the previous two days.
There was some light drama on the tanker Awanuia this morning, as one of the three mooring lines connecting her to the Rena, experienced some chafing overnight, where it went through the roller leads at the stern of the Rena. Her mooring lines are the "Dyneema" type (or similar) which are very light, strong and easy to handle, with good stretching characteristics, but poor chafe resistance. They had to shorten the mooring to adjust the length of the rope, so that the worn section was wrapped on the bits of the Rena, hence under less tension, with less potential to snap.
In an ideal world, a wire pennant should be utilised between the bits and the roller fairleads (like at port Taranaki), so that the rope mooring is connected outboard of the roller and will not chafe. No doubt there will be an insurance claim from the Awanuia for replacement ropes when this is all over. She has done very well there though, ably assisted by the tug Waka Kume.
Pumping of lube oil to her continued after this, however the transfer rate was hardly impressive.
There were two lots of dive operations undertaken on the hull of the Rena today.
On the starboard side, the divers were investigating and planning a "hot tapping" arrangement, whereby they would drill two holes in number 5 starboard oil tank, to recover the remaining HFO. One hole at the top of the tank and the other towards the bottom.
Contrary to what one might expect, "Hot tapping" does not involve flame cutting. It is a term used in the oil and dive industry, to drill through a pipe or tank wall, when there is pressurised hydrocarbons on the other side, without allowing any hydrocarbons to escape when the drill is removed.
Best to Google it if you want more details on how it’s done.
Once the pipe work is connected to the hot tap, then oil is drawn from the top hole and water is let in from the bottom. The static head of the water outside, continues to displace the oil, forcing it to the top of the tank where it is sucked out. A simple and effective method, making use of basic physics by taking advantage of the different properties of both fluids.
The 2nd dive was on the port side, to inspect some crumpling damage on her hull, immediately forward of her accommodation, in the vicinity of the bilge keel.
There is always a significant sheer force at the bulkhead between a vessels engine room and the next forward hatch. In simple terms, this is caused by an imbalance of forces, of buoyancy on one side and weight on the other.
In the recent north easterly blow, the buoyant engine room and aft hatch were rising and falling with the swell, at a different rate to the section of the hull wedded to the reef. The focal point for the structural flexing caused by that difference of motion, is at that bulkhead forward of the engine room, already under sheer force stress. As the trough of the heavy swell has caused the aft end of the Rena to drop, the bottom of the hull has buckled under compression forces, while at the deck, expansion forces have caused cracking.
Here ends the physics lessons.
This compression buckling and cracking is not visible to us on board the GO Canopus and is not as visually impressive as the gaping wound in her hull at number 2 hold, where she is firmly aground. However in the next big North East blow, it is here that she will now most likely break in two, with us connected to her by a tow wire. It will make a good fishing story - the big one that didn't get away ;-) Needless to say, this 2nd dive operation was in the same location as where we were required to be to load oil. The dive survey took precedence over us and we were requested to depart the scene to allow safe diving operations.
Divers become very nervous when propellers and thrusters are whirring above their heads.
So we departed the port side and spent the rest of the afternoon waiting and watching, with oil tanks still empty.
I have prepared both a stability plan and a deck cargo loading layout plan, but as yet, neither have been called upon.
That is all from Astrolabe reef today


  1. If you ever get fed up with life afloat you could consider writing for a living. Thanks for a clear description of whats going on and what life has been like. Can almost smell it from here on the Channel Islands.

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback, which has been passed to the author bouncing around off Astrolabe Reef.

  3. I am reading this in San Diego, and find your writing to be excellent coverage, given that when I was in Mt Maunganui a couple of weeks ago the wreck is only just visible, but omnipresent. I am very disappointed you have been knee capped on publishing- but keep up the log of events- I am sure many will be interested to read it once you are free to publish again

  4. Riveting reading for the non-mariner - many thanks. I too would like to read the rest of the story when you are free to publish again. I can't see why anyone would want to stop you. This will just make them look bad when it comes out.
    Many thanks for sharing, Antipodian Mariner!

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