Debris and oil is floating from the mess of the sinking Rena container ship as its stern finally slips under the water more than three months after it ran into New Zealand's Astrolabe reef.
Maritime New Zealand announced this morning half of the cargo ship, which split over the weekend after grounding off the Tauranga Coast last year, was going under.
"It's pretty messy. There's just debris everywhere and stuff that looks like oil," said Island Air pilot David Yeo who flew over to take pictures.
"It's just carnage basically."
Mr Yeo said it appeared tug boats were trying to direct where the stern of the ship sank. The ship went down very quickly, he said.
"We got a tip that it was going down and flew straight out. By the time we got there it was already under the water."
Mr Yeo said while weather conditions were calm, the seas were a little rough. The bow of the ship remained on the reef, he said.
"It's not going anywhere."
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said experts were in the air at the moment assessing the situation and more information would be available shortly. More containers wash up
Earlier today, at least 20 more containers from the Rena were reported to have washed up on Matakana Island overnight.
Grant Dyson, spokesman for recovery company Braemar Howells, said he thought at least 32 containers had now washed ashore, about 25 of them on Matakana, with others on Waihi Beach.
The plan was to try to remove the containers from Waihi Beach as soon as possible, he said.
Workers would be dealing with them at the beach and on Matakana today.
Given current sea conditions, the fastest and safest method of removing the containers would be to remove their contents before taking them away by road. Access had been arranged to the south side of Waihi Beach, Mr Dyson said.
The recovery company had sent a fast response boat and two tugs out at first light today to ensure shipping lanes and approaches to Tauranga Harbour were free of any containers that might pose a navigation hazard, he said.
In an effort to stop any more containers washing ashore, any close to the coast would also be towed.
Sonar sweeps were to be carried out between Waihi and Papamoa, looking for containers on the sea floor, while the clean up of the shoreline would continue.
Large amounts of debris had been collected at sea, and when conditions allowed, it was hoped to use nets to trawl for more.
A public meeting will be held this afternoon at Waihi Beach.
Containers could wash up 'for years'
Braemar Howells operations manager Claudine Sharp said trajectory projections showed containers could wash up on beaches as far as Mercury Bay over the next few years, and today's meeting was intended to inform the public of the impact and future cleanup plans.
It was initially feared more than 300 shipping containers had been lost when the Rena broke up in rough seas, but Sharp yesterday said only 150 were thought to have been lost overboard.
Of those, 45 had been identified and tagged for recovery, she said.
Cleanup crews removed debris from containers, including plastic bags of milk powder, from Waihi Beach yesterday.
The beach was reopened yesterday afternoon after being closed for the morning following reports of looting of containers washing ashore.
Waikato police spokesman Andrew McAlley said the contents of the containers remained the property of their owners and their insurance companies.
Dave Litton of Waihi police said they had received calls about the occupants of a vehicle taking bags of what appeared to be milk powder.
"The expert advice we have received is for people not to approach items washed ashore for health reasons and we appeal to those people who have taken objects to return them to the beach where they can be managed by decontamination crews."
Hamilton couple Sally and Greg Jordan, who often holidayed at the beach, popped down for a quick dip about 7.30am (5.30am AEDT) only to find two containers had washed up.
The pair got rubbish bags to help in the cleanup, but were advised against that until more was known about what was inside the containers. MNZ national on-scene commander Alex van Wijngaarden said a response team had been mobilised to deal with any fresh oil released from the ship, and members of the oiled wildlife response team had spent Sunday night checking Mt Maunganui and Leisure Island for oiled birds. Mr Van Wijngaarden said the navy would help patrol the exclusion zone around the Rena and ensure harbour channels remained clear.
Any oil coming ashore in the coming days was expected to be much less than the amount that washed up after the Rena first went aground, he said.
"Anyone finding oil or debris is asked to report it immediately and to stay well clear, as all debris must be treated as if it is contaminated."
Regional on-scene commander Adam Munro said extensive planning had been undertaken to prepare for oil or shipping containers washing up in the area.
"We have trained staff ready to respond if required and detailed plans are in place which we have prepared with the assistance of Maritime NZ, the salvors and the recovery company.
"Conditions are extremely changeable, but there is a possibility that debris and oil from the vessel might impact the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula, north of Waihi."
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