The fishing boat wreckage was lifted by crane from the recovery barge onto the slipway at Opua.
Northland Regional Council staff recovered the 15-metre refrigerated stern section at the weekend, the culmination of a carefully planned operation that began with the spotting of what was thought to be a navigational hazard early last week.
The wreckage was recovered not only because of the danger it posed to shipping, but because it was also carrying a cocktail of tropical marine hitchhikers - including crabs, fish and sea urchins - that posed a potential biosecurity risk.
The Regional Council was alerted on Monday last week (5 March) by the Wellington-based National Rescue Coordination Centre that a ‘container’ was drifting off the Bay of Islands in the middle of the country’s busiest shipping lane.
Ian Niblock, the Council’s Regional Harbourmaster, says Council maritime staff had located the wreckage about 10 nautical miles off Cape Brett the same day.
“At that stage the box-shaped wreckage – only about 150cm of which was visible above the water – did appear to be a shipping container. To avert the immediate threat to shipping and other water users, it was towed to a safe position about two nautical miles off Cape Brett, marked and anchored for closer inspection.”
Mr Niblock says as a precaution, the Council had then sent divers down to inspect the ‘container’ and determine exactly what cargo, if any, it was holding.
‘’To their surprise, they realised it was not a container at all, but a partial stern section of a vessel, since identified as a Taiwanese fishing boat that was lost in the Pacific about five years ago.”
Mr Niblock says police have been advised of the wreckage’s recovery and although the Regional Council is aware of the vessel’s name, it does not intend to release it at this stage.
“This is because the exact circumstances of the vessel’s loss, and whether any crew members were hurt or died, are still not clear. Out of respect for the crew and their families, no further information will be released until this is clarified.”
Mr Niblock says the Regional Council had alerted Biosecurity New Zealand - the Government agency responsible for handling unwanted foreign species – as soon as the potential biosecurity threat was identified.
While awaiting a response from Biosecurity NZ, the Council’s own Biosecurity staff had arranged for samples of marine life to be collected from the wreckage for identification and to guard against any biosecurity threat.
After advice from Biosecurity NZ, a carefully planned recovery operation, led by the Regional Council, began on Thursday when the wreckage was towed closer to the Bay of Islands.
On Friday (09 March) a further dive survey and sampling took place and on Saturday (10 March) the wreckage was lifted by a crane onto a barge. It was then transported to Opua and transferred to a slipway for a further, third inspection, sampling and assessment.
Mr Niblock says the Regional Council has learned the wreckage was apparently first spotted on 8 February north of New Zealand by an Air Force fisheries patrol as it entered the country’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
“Although Maritime New Zealand was immediately notified, it only issued a local navigation warning once the wreckage was rediscovered off the Bay of Islands last week.”
Mr Niblock says at this early stage it appears that none of the marine species recovered pose an immediate biosecurity threat, however, experts are continuing their analysis this week.
He says the Regional Council is pleased to have been able to avert a host of risks to Northland’s people, property and environment.
“I would hate to think what could have happened if this wreckage had continued to drift through busy shipping lanes or towards the internationally significant Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.”
The wreckage was identified from a Taiwanese fishing boat lost in the Pacific five years ago.