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Reef-bound container ship becoming 'full scale environmental disaster’

Friday 7th October 2011 6 Comments

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Maritime authorities are moving too slowly to contain the oil spill from the container ship grounded off the Port of Tauranga, says one of New Zealand’s leading ocean ecology groups, the Environmental Defence Society.

"We are very concerned to see this incident inexorably moving into a full-scale environmental disaster," said EDS chairman Gary Taylor of the response to the emergency created by the grounding of The Rena, a Mediterranean Shipping Corp. vessel, on the Astrolabe reef, some 12.5 nautical miles out from the port.

"We are not convinced by what we have seen so far that Maritime New Zealand has the situation under control.”

The emergency response to date indicated “a general lack of readiness on the part of the relevant authorities to deal with an oil spill off the New Zealand coast”, with serious implications for plans to prospect for oil and gas off the eastern coast of the North Island.

The Rena is into its third day aground on the reef, so far in calm weather, yet there was still no containment boom around the oil spill, Taylor said.

The oil spill was initially attacked with a dispersant, which was found to be ineffective. At this stage, the ship’s fuel tanks are intact.

The grounding threatens a highly prized local fishing, diving and marine life environment that thrives around the undersea mountain reef, which is generally visible in daylight.

"The area is one that has high natural values with many seabirds, marine mammals and fish at risk from contamination,” Taylor said. “Nearby beaches and communities are at risk.

“We see no reason why containment should not already be in place. We understand suitable equipment is available.

"This impression is reinforced by the way they are experimenting with helicopter spraying of dispersal chemicals only to find they are not working. This is redolent of the Gulf of Mexico disaster where authorities were found wanting of tried and proven response techniques.

"We would have thought that there would be a rapid, effective and proven response to this kind of incident and instead are seeing unexplained delays and trialling of different methods of control.

"This is not a good look when we consider the imminent prospect of oil exploration off the same east coast of the North Island. If this is an indication of our readiness then there is a lot of work to be done.”

Port of Tauranga continues to operate normally.


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Comments from our readers

On 7 October 2011 at 1:40 pm Damian Matehaere said:
Im a Motiti Islander. This is disgusting what is going on! The first thing authorities should have done was contain the oil spill. Three days on they still do not have a boom around the spill. Im no engineer however a ship the size of the Rena high and dry on our reef will not come off intact even if they remove its cargo. This is the saddest day ever for Motiti Islanders and mainlanders alike.
On 7 October 2011 at 2:04 pm Wolfman said:
Must be the same idiots running this that ran the Pike River Fiasco. Why the hell didn't they put Booms around this ship as soon as it happened.
On 7 October 2011 at 2:15 pm terry said:
two many highly paid so called experts have to have meetings and meetings to justyfie there should have had booms around the first day.also they should have barges and pumps to get the oil off now before it breaks up.god help nz if we go ahead with oil drilling with a responce team like we have here,what a shambles.
On 7 October 2011 at 4:30 pm Brentleigh said:
I am appalled at the situation that appears to be developing into a full scale environmental disaster with the Rena grounding off the Port of Tauranga. All we have seen so far is talk and and an experimental trial with dispersant that didn't appear to have worked although recent comments indicate it may have. And the situation is in its third day. The weather has been relatively calm yet there is no containment boom around the ship and there appears to be no action underway to remove the oil from the ship in conditions that must be as good as they get at the reef. Northeast winds are predicted to develop on Sunday strengthening to gusty on Wednesday. While I'm not a rocket scientist, this would have to indicate a deterioration of the situation with the ship increasing its movement on the reef which likely to lead to its eventual breakup. Comments on National radio indicate the salvor is the guy who is responsible to get the oil off the ship and he apparently is appointed by the ship owners who are no doubt more interested in cost containment than in oil containment and a contaminated coastline. In view of the apparent lack of any coherent plan with dithering and monitoring by those ostensibly in charge, there needs to be some immediate, strong and decisive leadership by the government in firstly getting the oil off the ship while there is still time, containing what is in the ocean now if possible in deteriorating weather, and longer term ensuring we have a much better national response facility to what we have seen to date.
On 7 October 2011 at 7:18 pm Wolfman said:
Now we find out this country don't have the booms required for an accident like this. I thought after the Mexico spill and giving drilling rights to overseas countries, they would have been the first thing ordered, prior to any licences being issued. What a backward country, run by airheaded politicians in all parties. Some brain surgeon sure has been busy doing all the Labodomies.
On 21 October 2011 at 2:36 am PatrickCameron said:
I'm shocked that the relevant NZ authorities don't have the specialist equipment ready to go in these circumstances. This is 2011, the technology is obviously available, someon should be held accountable for the late reaction in containing the spill.
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