New Zealand Oil Spill
Written by Faith Anderson on October 12, 2011
Rena Threatens to Break Apart in Forceful Swells
“We have identified stress fractures on the ship,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said. About 70 containers have already fallen off the deck of the 775-foot vessel as it has listed increasingly in the rough ocean conditions. The cracks, which appeared after Rena was pounded by heavy swells, has heightened fears that the ship could break up and release all 1,870 tons of oil on board. “We can’t rule out the risk of the ship breaking up, that’s certainly being monitored,” Key said in Tauranga, where oil is already beginning to cover the white sand beaches and wildlife has been found dead. According to Maritime New Zealand, which is managing the emergency response, the stern may break away, leading to serious consequences. Three tug boats were mobilized to hold the stern on the reef while efforts are being made to remove the oil from the ship, or to tow the stern to shallow water.
Rough Ocean Conditions Prevent Salvage Crew from Boarding Stricken Ship
There were 1,368 containers on board the cargo ship, eleven of which contained hazardous substances, the maritime agency reported. The containers with hazardous materials were not among the 70 that have fallen overboard at this point, according to Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Jones. Unfortunately, Jones notes, the rough weather and the ship’s steep list are likely to topple off more containers in the coming days.
Worsening ocean conditions in the form of 16-foot swells, have made it impossible for a salvage crew to board the ship. Without the salvage crew aboard, oil cannot be pumped out of the ship. “It’s appalling,” Jones said of the weather. “Everything is still in a holding pattern.” Forecasters are predicting the swells will reduce to six feet by Thursday, at which point salvage crews might be able to board the ship. The piles of containers that remain on the ship continue to move, making it dangerous for salvage crews to work onboard. In the meantime, six vessels have been mobilized to intercept the drifting containers and other debris in the water.
Clumps of Oil Tarnish Pristine New Zealand Beaches
If convicted of his charges, the cargo ship captain could face a fine of up to $7,800 and twelve months in prison. His next court appearance is scheduled for October 19, at which point he is likely to incur more charges. The government has demanded to know why the ship crashed into the well-charted reef in calm weather, but the vessel’s owner has offered no explanation. Maritime New Zealand commander Nick Quinn reports that his first priority is to clean up the oil. “Until now, we have had a light oiling of beaches,” Quinn said. “This will significantly increase as more oil washes ashore over the coming days.” Officials believe the ship contained about 1,870 tons of oil and 220 tons of diesel on board before it started leaking.
Clumps of oil have washed up on the shores of the pristine beaches near Tauranga, and Maritime New Zealand has so far reported that 200 oiled birds have been found dead and 41 others were being cleaned at a wildlife emergency center. Witnesses said dead fish were also washing up on the shores of beaches, as local volunteers worked to clean the oily clots from the white sand. In a statement, the owners of the vessel, Costamare Inc. of Greece, said they were “cooperating fully with local authorities,” and were making every effort to “control and minimize the environmental consequences of this incident.”