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Grounded ship Rena could break up

Friday 7 Oct 2011 5:47 a.m.

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Oil leaking from the cargo ship stranded on a reef near Tauranga will reach the shore, officials say.

"Inevitably there will be some shoreline impact, the degree to which the oil impacts the shoreline at this stage it's impossible to say," says Maritime New Zealand's (MNZ) on-scene commander, Rob Service.

The 236-metre, Liberian-flagged vessel, Rena, hit the Astrolabe Reef off the Tauranga coast early on Wednesday, causing a five kilometre-long oil slick that has already killed some wildlife.

Mr Service told Radio New Zealand that it's impossible to say how much oil has leaked from the ship or how far it will spread.

MNZ are preparing an on-water operation to scoop the sheen off the water's surface, although they admit this might have little value because of the way the ship is situated and the spread of the oil.

There was no evidence of a further spillage of heavy fuel oil and the oil in the water was believed to have come from pipes rather than the main tanks.

Environmental impact depends on luck and weather

Mr Service says the environmental impact depends on luck and the weather, which is set to take a turn for the worse over the weekend.

"The amount of oil that might be on the shoreline we just can't determine that, it's going to depend entirely on the conditions at the time, however we're prepared for a significant shoreline cleanup operation," he says.

"The worst case situation is a significant shoreline impact."

There are fears the leaning vessel will begin to break up, causing more oil to seep in to the sea.

Salvors, Svitzer, are coming up with a plan to refloat the vessel but getting the 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil off the ship is the number one priority.

A Dutch naval architect is scheduled to be on site on Friday afternoon and will begin calculations to formulate a salvage plan.

Fears vessel could break up

Officials are "very, very worried" about a stranded cargo ship spilling oil into the sea off the coast of Tauranga.

It's not yet known where it's coming from, but engineers are on board the Liberian-flagged vessel, Rena, checking for the source.

An aerial survey on Friday will determine if the 5 kilometre-long oil slick has grown or changed direction.

A toxic oil dispersant has been sprayed in a bid to break the oil up, but the manager of Maritime New Zealand's (MNZ) pollution response service, Andrew Berry, says it didn't work and they will up the amount of dispersant used or look at other chemicals.

"Clearly we'd prefer not to have to spray it, (but) compared to the greater evil of large quantities of heavy fuel oil it's, in our opinion, it's a considered risk worth taking," Mr Berry told Radio New Zealand.

MNZ will meet with the salvage company, Svitzer, to come up with a plan to get the 1700 tonnes of fuel off the ship before the weather deteriorates over the weekend.

The reef - about 4 nautical miles north of Motiti Island and 12 nautical miles off the coast - is home to animals including little blue penguins, seals and petrels and four oiled birds have already been found dead near the ship.

Earlier this year, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Rena for more than a day after it was found to have a number of deficiencies including a faulty hatchway, cargo not stowed or secured, and cracked and rusted parts.

Mr Berry says the latest incident doesn't seem to be linked to these problems, but investigations down the track will shed more light.

Joyce on his way to Tauranga

Transport Minister Steven Joyce is on his way to Tauranga to see for himself the struggle that is going on to stop oil leaking from the stranded ship Rena.

Mr Joyce is going to visit Maritime New Zealand's incident command centre, the wildlife facility at the Tauranga Wastewater Treatment Plant and the forward operating base at the port.

He will also fly over the scene to inspect the vessel and the spill before holding a press conference at 3.30pm in Mt Maunganui.

‘Delicate operation’

A Dutch expert is due to arrive in New Zealand on Friday to help salvors develop a plan to free the container ship stuck on a reef and leaking oil off the Tauranga coast.

A spokesman for the salvors Svitzer says a plan will be developed on how to refloat the vessel but getting the 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil off the stricken ship is the number one priority.

"Getting oil off the vessel is a very delicate operation," Matthew Watson told Radio New Zealand.

"We need to get an idea of what the vessel can tolerate and how she can best be shifted."

He says a Dutch naval architect is scheduled to be on site on Friday afternoon and will then begin calculations to formulate a salvage plan .

"There will be no knee-jerk decisions, nothing will be rushed, it will be a very considered meticulous and methodical plan."

Mr Watson says the expert will determine whether containers on the ship need to be removed and how the fuel on the ship can be best removed.

Specialist salvage equipment is on its way to Tauranga to assist in the recovery operation.

Oil dispersant same used in BP disaster

A oil dispersant being used to tackle the oil spill off the coast of Tauranga is the same product controversially used in the massive BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

The dispersant Corexit 9500 was sprayed over the slick on Thursday but was not as effective as was hoped.

"The dispersant we sprayed yesterday worked in the morning but it wasn't performing as we expected in afternoon," said Maritime New Zealand's pollution response service manager, Andrew Berry.

He said after talking with experts they will change their approach.

"We're going to try applying more dispersant today including a different type of dispersant to see if that can assist us," he told Radio New Zealand.

He confirmed the chemical was the same used in the Deepwater Horizon spill which caused controversy because of its toxicity.

"Clearly we'd prefer not to have to spray it, (but) compared to the greater evil of large quantities of heavy fuel oil it's, in our opinion, a considered risk worth taking."

He said comparisons between the BP oil recovery exercise and the Tauranga operation were misleading.

"The conditions in what we're spraying it here are far more different to what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico and we're certainly not spraying it in the volumes that we'd seen in the Gulf."

Mr Berry said another type of Corexit will be used on the oil on Friday but was confident that a sea and aerial exclusion zone around the ship and the slick would prevent people coming into contact with it.


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