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Contaminant leak from Rena wreck confirmed

Published: 12:53PM Thursday January 24, 2013 Source: ONE News

Testing of the area around the sunken stern of the shipwrecked Rena has confirmed fears of elevated level of contaminants around the wreck.

But health officials in the Bay of Plenty are assuring the public this does not change the level of risk the wreck poses.

Divers for from the Rena recovery monitoring team have recently gained greater access to the Astrolabe Reef following more than a year of salvage operations which have restricted their access.

The presence of contaminants around the site had been expected and the samples are now undergoing further testing.

"Sediment samples have shown elevated levels of contaminants including copper and PAH's (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) which are known contaminants that were lost to sea from the Rena and its cargo," Professor Chris Battershill from the University of Waikato said.

"While we only have limited sampling information at this point, early indications are that the contamination is localised."

The two nautical mile exclusion zone around the wreck remains in place and officials say there is no significant risk to seafood from the contaminants found from the Rena.

Divers discovered that of the 36 remaining containers in the sunken ship's stern carrying known contaminants, many have broken up and their contents have escaped.

Further tests will help determine what action is needed to remedy the contamination.

"We are working hard to get more information for the public as soon as we can," Battershill said.

"Once all the sampling, testing and analysis has taken place it is likely to be March when we will next be able to provide an update."

Of the 1368 containers carried on board at the time of the grounding, 1007 have been recovered.

Salvors are now using specialist heavy-lifting equipment to remove the remaining cargo, wreck and container debris from an area of approximately 10,000 square metres around the wreck.

More than 256 tonnes of debris has been removed in the last month.