At 2.20am on Wednesday, 5 October 2011, the 236-metre container ship Rena struck Astrolabe Reef, 12 nautical miles northeast of Tauranga, prompting New Zealand’s largest-ever marine oil spill and response. Rena was travelling at 17 knots when she grounded. The 47,230 tonne vessel was carrying 1733 tonnes of heavy fuel, a range of lighter fuels and 1368 containers. Many beaches, wildlife breeding groups and local estuaries in the Tauranga area were affected by oil, containers and debris.
In its annual report for 2010-2011, Maritime New Zealand stated:
“Work has progressed well on developing a comprehensive strategy for Maritime New Zealand to deliver appropriate distress and safety communications services in the period 2014 to 2025. The strategy will see Maritime New Zealand continue to meet international obligations around marine safety distress communication as well as national expectations. Maritime New Zealand will conduct a formal competitive process early in the next year.” 1
In its annual report for 2011-2012, Maritime New Zealand stated:
“Maritime New Zealand’s Distress and Safety Strategy developed to ensure appropriate safety communication services are delivered, in the period 2014 to 2025, is entering the next phase of contract refinement and transition planning. A competitive tender process in 2011 identified Kordia Limited as the best technical and most cost-effective solution to continue providing this service. The new service will differ slightly from the existing model in that Kordia will manage all the assets and will be responsible for the upgrade of equipment, this will include a total refresh of the Maritime operation centre’s operating platform. The new platform will replace equipment dating to 1994 and ensure the on-going reliability of the operations centre with more modern fixable approach that is not tied to one location” 2
In its annual report for 2012-2013, Maritime New Zealand stated:
“The current radio network and operations centre for issuing weather and navigation warnings and handling distress and safety radio calls is being replaced. Maritime New Zealand’s Distress and Safety Strategy, developed to ensure appropriate safety communication services are delivered in the period 2014 to 2025, is entering a transition phase before a new agreement for services starts with Kordia. Work is well underway on implementation activities for the delivery of the new services.
Site inspections to prepare for handover have been completed and an upgrade of the high frequency transmission and reception equipment has begun. The transition plan is on schedule, with the aim being to complete due diligence on all aspects of the current radio services to ensure a seamless transition to the new service on 1 July 2014. A key milestone will be the upgrade of the existing 1994 Maritime Operation Centre equipment to a new, more flexible platform.” 3
“More than 37,500 beacons have been registered with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand. There were 542 beacon alerts during the year (2012-2013) a 28 percent increase over last year. Of these, 124 involved real distress incidents, an increase of 29 percent. Efforts are being maintained to promote the advisability of using and registering beacons, and the need for preparation and personal responsibility when participating in outdoor activities.
“The increase in registrations of distress beacons continues to pay dividends, with most false or inadvertent activations able to be easily resolved by a phone call to the registered contact person listed in the beacon database. The ability to access information about the registration is saving lives and the ability to quickly resolve false alerts is saving money.” 4
“Work on the Medium Earth Orbit Satellite Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) project is progressing to provide ground stations for the detection and location of distress beacon signals. Tenders for the work close in September 2013, a major milestone for the three-year project. Work is continuing in parallel on the detailed project plan, frequency protection arrangements and on securing potential sites in New Zealand and Australia…
“Maritime New Zealand has undertaken cooperative international work to enhance and improve current distress beacon satellite system coverage and performance. Early in 2013, Russia launched a geostationary satellite, located over Nauru. In response to a request by Russia and as the only country in the satellite’s ground coverage area with the
capability to receive distress beacon data, New Zealand has repositioned its spare aerial to point at the new satellite. Once testing is complete, this arrangement will considerably enhance both Australia’s and New Zealand’s early capability to identify 406 MHz distress beacon alerts.
“For New Zealand in particular, the new satellite location will provide improved coverage along the west coast and many valleys oriented towards the northwest. This improvement will be achieved at minimal cost to New Zealand, and is an excellent example of international cooperation to improve safety outcomes. 5
Kordia Limited assumed responsibility for provision and management of the entire maritime distress and safety radio system.
In its annual report for 2014-2015 Maritime NZ reported that as of 30 June 2015, more than 54,750 emergency distress beacons had been registered with the RCCNZ, a 17 per cent increase over the previous year. Registrations of personal locator beacons (PLBs) made up 75 per cent of the total.
There were 574 beacon alerts during the year, of which 166 involved real distress incidents. The RCCNZ coordinated 816 incidents.
“A restructure of RCCNZ, combining Search and Rescue and infrastructure safety services (Aids to Navigation and Distress and SafetyCommunications) under a new management structure, has allowed for more effective and efficient running of the services.” 6
The $7.2 million project to install the new MEOSAR system for detecting signals from distress beacons continued “on track and under budget” and was completed in December 2016. In its annual report for 2015-2016, Maritime NZ said that the MEOSAR earth station east of Taupo had been completed. The Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite system would be phased out towards the end of 2017.
“New Zealand’s new MEO system is complemented by a similar LUT [earth station] site in Western Australia. This joint Australasian system will provide significant coverage of the wider Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans and land masses. Although technically only still in ‘test phase’, the system has been detecting live data since the first quarter of 2016, which has assisted in many search and rescue operations.
“The MEO data is generally proving to provide alerts earlier than the older system. An hour’s head start can be crucial in search and rescue when dealing with failing daylight or the need for medical attention. With full acceptance testing taking place in August the system should be further refined and enhanced.” 7
“As at 30 June 2016, almost 58,000 active emergency distress beacons were registered in RCCNZ’s beacon database, representing a 19 per cent increase over the previous year. Over the year, RCCNZ coordinated or supported responses to 924 incidents.” 8
In August, the two spiracone antennas at Taupo Radio’s Matea site were damaged by ice.
1. Maritime New Zealand Annual Report 2010-2011, p 19
2. Maritime New Zealand Annual Report 2011-2012, p 33
3. Maritime New Zealand Annual Report 2012-2013, pp 21-22
4. ibid, p 20
5. ibid, pp 20-21
6. Maritime New Zealand Annual Report 2014-2015, p 30
7. Maritime New Zealand Annual Report 2015-2016, p 15
8. ibid, p 42