The pumping of oil from the Rena has been completed, Prime Minister John Key confirmed today.
Mr Key said the Awanui, which was collecting the oil, was expected to leave the grounded ship this afternoon.
It had pumped about 1350 tonnes in total and the remaining oil was a small amount that would have to be mopped up.
"This is an important milestone. It's been a very successful operation and the people of Tauranga will be happy that we haven't had the environmental disaster some predicted."
He said the people of Tauranga and the salvors deserved credit for their efforts.
Work could now begin on removing containers from the Rena, which Transport Minister Steven Joyce said would take months "at least".
The shipping company had been told they had to remove the Rena from the reef when the work was completed.
However, Mr Joyce said it was effectively in 3 pieces and could still split up. Coningency plans were in place if that happened.
He said the cost of the response so far was about $12 million.
To the salvors and to all those involved in the operation to pump oil from the Rena; we cannot thank you enough. New Zealand was facing an environmental catastrophe, but heroic efforts in at times dreadful conditions have seen the threat of a major oil spill averted.
The Rena has hung together long enough to enable all the dirty oil to be pumped from its tanks and pipework. This is great news for the people of the Bay of Plenty. The news may not be greeted with such satisfaction by certain sections of the news media, who have been predicting the breaking-up of the Rena for several weeks now, as though it would be a good thing.
One television news reporter who we won't name tweeted the following a couple of weeks back:
Quick trip to the Tron for last night's leader's debate, now off to Tauranga. Cracks growing on Rena and the surfs up!
We chastised this person at the time, suggesting that the demise of the Rena wasn't something to be getting excited about. Sure; it's a breaking news story, but at that point, had the Rena broken up the effect on the Bay of Plenty coastline and on the New Zealand economy didn't bear thinking about. It certainly wasn't something to be celebrating.
We can only hope now that the majority of containers can be salvaged before the Rena meets her ultimate fate. We were at a business function the other afternoon, and talked to a couple of exporters who have goods in containers on the ship. Naturally, they are pretty worried, as they won't get paid until the goods arrive at their destination, or until the insurers cough up. They are in a holding pattern for now, and are naturally hopeful that their goods can be accounted for.
So it's "mission accomplished" for those charged with extracting the oil, and once again, we salute them. We hope that someone thinks to buy them a celebratory beverage or two tonight, because goodness knows; they've earned it!