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Sensitive talks over Rena environment recovery

Published: 3:17PM Thursday January 26, 2012 Source: ONE News

A long term plan is being put in place to manage the clean-up from the Rena disaster.

But the Government says it is negotiating with the cargo vessel's owners to pay the full costs of the environmental clean-up.

Environment Minister Nick Smith today launched the plan to address the long term effects of the disaster on the wider Bay of Plenty region.

Smith said the recovery plan is expected to cost up to $3 million but the figure can't be finalised until the emergency and salvage response is complete.

Smith said the Government expects those responsible for the Rena disaster to meet the costs of the recovery plan, estimated to be between $2 million and $3 million. But he said the Government will fund the environmental clean up even if the ship's owners never pay it back.

"Our objective is to ensure that the Bay of Plenty environment is restored back to its state. It includes a programme of work around the wildlife, around the beaches, around the shoreline, the sea bed," said Smith.

Multi-agency response

The recovery plan involves 16 different agencies. "This plan's about who does what and that's its most important role," said Smith.

The overall environmental response will be headed by Catherine Taylor, the former head of Maritime New Zealand.

The response phase has involved the removal of oil and containers and has been led by Maritime New Zealand. Smith said as this phase progresses there needs to be a transition to a long-term environmental recovery.

He said the aim is to bring together central, regional and local government organisations as well as iwi to ensure the long-term clean-up job is well co-ordinated.

Bay of Plenty regional council spokesman John Cronin said the Government is talking about a two year time frame but he thinks it will be completed within 18 months.

So far, cleaning up the beaches, the water and the wildlife has cost the Government around $20 million but under NZ  law, the ship's owners may only be responsible for around $12 million of the cost.

"There are very sensitive discussions going on between the Government and the owners and the insurers," Smith said.

"It is the Government's objective that the full cost of this long term environmental recovery plan will be met by those responsible for the disaster, but the sensitive nature of those discussions are such that I'm not prepared to go into detail."

The Government will review the long term response in September and concedes plans may need to change.

Further oil spills prevented

The plan identifies environmental issues for the beaches, seabed, water, fisheries, wildlife and management of waste and sets out who is responsible for the recovery and monitoring of each.

Smith said the appointed salvors have prevented further significant oil spills and removed some containers from the vessel following the ship's grounding on October 5.

"This and the work of Maritime New Zealand, iwi, community volunteers, New Zealand Defence Force, DoC and the Wildlife Recovery Team, have provided an effective emergency response."

A governance group has been established to oversee the implementation of the plan and Catherine Taylor, formerly Maritime New Zealand's Chief Executive, has been appointed as the Rena Recovery Manager.

View the plan

More rough weather

The salvage team is continuing to focus on the removal of containers from the bow section of the Rena.

Salvors are installing sliding beams on the bow section which will allow containers to be moved overboard where they can be reached and recovered by the Smit Borneo crane.

However the weather is again forecast to deteriorate with wind rising to 20 knots and swells increasing from 1 metre to 2 metres around the wreck.

Plans are under way to remove 25 one-tonne bags of rubbish from Motiti Island next week in a helilift and divers are using specialised equipment to cut up two containers which are partly submerged in the Bowentown area.

A light sheen is still stretching south of the wreck for about four kilometres.