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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