Thursday, May 23, 2013
Last Updated: 22 May 19:22 PM IST
8 January 2012
WELLINGTON, 8 JAN: A cargo ship that caused New Zealand's worst maritime pollution disaster when it ran aground three months ago broke in two in a storm today, raising fears of a fresh environmental crisis.
A team of oil-spill and wildlife specialists has been mobilised as oil again began flowing from the Rena which has been stuck on Astrolabe Reef off the North Island resort area of Tauranga since 5 October.
Shipping was also being warned away as up to 300 containers were washed from the wreck and salvage workers said there was a strong likelihood the stern section would capsize.
The Rena is now in two pieces which have been forced 20-30 metres apart after being pounded by waves up to seven metres high.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) on-scene commander Alex van Wijngaarden said the National Response Team, which included oil spill response and wildlife experts was preparing for the likelihood of more oil coming ashore.
“While it is unknown at this stage exactly how much oil may be released, teams have been mobilised and will be ready to respond to anything that may come ashore,” he said. “The wildlife response had also been increased to help deal with any affected wildlife.”
When the Rena ran aground, about 350 ton of oil spilled into the sea and was washed on to once-pristine beaches, killing at least 1,300 birds while an army of volunteers combed the coastline and saved hundreds more.
More than 1,000 ton of oil have since been pumped off the ship but there is more on board and while it posed a risk environment minister Mr Nick Smith said it would not be as bad as when the Rena first ran aground. “At the most tens of ton of oil rather than hundreds of ton that potentially could be spilled,” he said.
Salvors have also been removing containers from the vessel and said before the storm hit there were an estimated 881 still on board. Only a few of the ship's original consignment of containers had hazardous cargo.
The Filipino captain and second officer of the Rena have been arrested and face multiple charges over the grounding, including operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk. They have also been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, which carries a seven-year jail term, amid accusations documents were altered after the grounding. The two men are on bail but are being housed at a secret location for their own safety because of fears of a public backlash.