25 November 2011: 10.30am
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) has been advised by insurers acting for the charterers of the Rena (Mediterranean Shipping Company) there are a further 21 containers containing dangerous goods on board the ship. This is in addition to the 11 containers of dangerous goods already advised.
However, Director of MNZ, Catherine Taylor, said expert scientific advice received by MNZ confirmed the material presented a low risk in its current state.
“Immediately after the grounding of the Rena on 5 October, as Director of MNZ, I requested information about all dangerous goods on board the ship from MSC as declared by the shippers, However, for reasons still unknown, the contents of these 21 containers were not declared as dangerous goods in the original manifest provided to MNZ and as required under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code,” Ms Taylor said.
“While experts advise that the contents of these containers are considered low risk in their current state submerged below decks in the vessel’s holds, MNZ is carrying out a thorough investigation as to why these dangerous goods were not declared as required under maritime legislation and whether this constitutes a breach of the law.”
The manifest records the product as “Cover Bath Material” and “Pure Tapped Bath Material”, a by-product of the aluminium smelting process, which is considered low risk unless ingested or inhaled directly in its dry powdered form. MSC also advises this material is known as cryolite.
“Since learning of this new information on Tuesday (22 November), MNZ has spent the last few days working extensively with various scientific, environmental and health experts to accurately assess the risk posed by cryolite to the marine environment and to people,” Ms Taylor said. “We have also been given a strong assurance by MSC that there are no other potentially dangerous goods on board that have not been declared.”
Twenty of the containers in question are located in hold 3, which suffered considerable damage in the grounding. The other is in hold 5. This means they are below deck and inaccessible, under containers above deck. Of these, 17 containers are understood to be submerged, but all are likely to have been submerged at some time as the ship has moved. There are 490 tonnes of the product on board. It is packed in 1 tonne bulk bags inside the containers. The bags have a polyethylene liner and are constructed of polypropylene, so are water resistant, but not water tight. Water is likely to have seeped into the bags within the container.
“Expert advice is that the cryolite on board Rena is considered to be of low risk given that the product is only slightly soluble in water, so is expected to dissolve slowly. Any dissolved material will be diluted and dispersed very rapidly, reducing the potential effects further.” While cryolite is dangerous to humans in its dry form if ingested or inhaled, it is not considered a risk in these circumstances, because the material has been submerged and contained below decks since the Rena grounded. Ms Taylor said salvors working on the vessel had been advised that the material was on board and were taking all necessary safety precautions to continue their work.
“While this late notification is frustrating, it’s simply another issue Rena has thrown at us that we have to get on and deal with. It’s the typical nature of salvage operations that these sorts of issues will come up, and our plans remain flexible enough to respond to them as they occur,” Ms Taylor said.