Containment - Prologue
What had started as a small crowd of bewildered residents huddled against the seeping chill of a dark Dunedin winter morning had grown to a string of awed and silent spectators lined from the tip of the Mole to the end of the Spit. Their vehicles occupied every conceivable snippet of vacant real estate while those still arriving attempted improbable turning manoeuvres in streets never designed for heavy traffic. Across the harbour entrance the distant play of car headlights winding from Taiaroa Head to Harrington and beyond held testimony to similar scenes.
August's watery sun was rising on the horizon, pushing back the vestiges of an eventful night, revealing an unlikely tableau. Shafts of lemon light struck the bridge roofline of the Lauretia Express, accentuating the unnatural tilt of her peak. Fingers spread along her container deck, the play of light and dark giving it the appearance of a decayed jaw studded with random teeth. The hulk of the stilled ship dwarfed the buzz of tugs, pilot boats and inflatables that strafed the stricken hull with spotlights.
The scale of the accident was all too apparent to the shivering crowd stretched along the Mole. The ship towered above them like an eight-storey building, marooned at an impossible angle. The strobe of camera flashes added to the eerie atmosphere, creating a stilted cinemascope of the Lauretia's demise.
Those further down on the spit huddled in clusters before the incongruous sight of iceberg-like containers, some beached upon Aramoana's sands, some not so fortunate to find dry land. People moved in slow motion swarms, circling, pointing, whispering in reverent tones at respectful distance. The whispers cut off as three young men approached one of the metal boxes. The low sun bathed them in hallowed light as they ran their hands over the surface, and then grasped the door handle and pulled. The security seal was no match for determination. The creak of metal grating on metal cut through the tense air, puncturing the silence. Stillness of held breath followed, then a collective gasp from the crowd. An invisible line had been crossed and as if upon signal, the masses descended as vultures upon the carcases. Eager hands grasped at doors, greedy arms lifted out cartons, motorbikes, furniture, tossing aside that deemed unworthy, plundering that deemed treasure. Fights and scraps broke out among those determined to have the best of the bounty, while the moral minority stood back, appalled but helpless. Anarchy had hit Dunedin.
Soon the detritus of pillage was strewed across the beach; ornaments, books, papers, clothes. Those not actively emptying containers poked through the cast aside, pocketing the desirable. An elderly woman, wrapped up against the cold, shoulder draped with her just found bounty of a red woollen coat, poked another pile with a piece of driftwood. She bent over closer to examine the glimpse of shiny white that tantalised from beneath a pile of garments, and then reached out a hand to push aside the coverings. It took several moments before her mind took in the eyeless sockets of the human skull and another five seconds before her lungs sucked in enough frigid air to unleash a scream.