Week 1: Latest news on oil spill from Rena

By Staff Reporters


For updates on the latest clean-up operation click here.

5.25: Salvors are hopeful to begin pumping oil off stricken container ship Rena tomorrow evening but say the job will not be complete before the forecast high winds and large swells descend on the Bay of Plenty. The 20 person salvage team includes experts from the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Holland.

4.22pm: Teams of wildlife rescue staff have been sent to Motiti Island and Maritime New Zealand is also preparing to launch a shoreline clean-up in the event that oil reaches land.

4.00pm:  Two vessels were today being loaded with equipment, including oil containment booms, at the forward operation base at Port of Tauranga with a training run set to get underway this afternoon. Read more...

2.20pm: Tauranga iwi have placed a rahui or ban around the area surrounding the astrolabe reef and the oil slick from the stricken ship Rena. Read more...

1.30pm:  One of the four vessels from the New Zealand Defence Force, the Manawanui, has arrived in Tauranga Harbour. Two more will arrive today. The fourth ship is expected to arrive on Monday.

1.22pm: An on-water response to the developing oil crisis of the coast of Tauranga could be underway this afternoon with an estimated 10 tonnes of oil already spilled in to the harbour.

12.28pm:  On shore, a massive response operation is underway. Representatives from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) have now joined the incident command centre.

Four vessels from the NZDF have been deployed for the response, comprising Rotoiti, Taup?, Manawanui and Endeavour. The first three will arrive today with the Endeavour arriving on Monday.

An Iroquois helicopter arrives today and around 500 defence force personnel are on standby for a shoreline cleanup if needed.

Assessment teams are inspecting Matakana island and Maket? estuary to examine options for protecting the shoreline from pollution. Oil spill response staff are working with scientists and iwi and undertaking reef dives off the north coast of M?t?t? island with aerial surveys down as far as Waih? Beach.

Specialist salvage equipment has been deployed from around the country and Australia to support the salvage operation being undertaken by Svitzer.

11.55am: An observation flight this morning has confirmed that oil appears to have stopped flowing from the stricken ship Rena off the coast of Tauranga for the time being. The slick from the ship is now predominantly sheen, or very thinly spread oil.

National On Scene Commander Rob Service said dispersant applications would be put on standby until any further thick patches of oil are identified.

"The oil sheen is moving away from the nearby islands, and a sheen is spreading westerly about two to five miles from the ship.

"There are darker patches in isolated pockets but they seem to be assisted by yesterday's wind," Mr Service said.

Mr Service explained that dispersant is only effective on thicker concentrations of oil.

8 October, 11.16am: The Awanuia fuel tanker will sail for the Bay of Plenty to assist in the salvage of the Rena this afternoon, after discharging her current load of fuel oil at Marsden Point.

The Awanuia is owned by Seafuels, a joint venture company between Ports of Auckland and Pacific Basin, one of the world's leading shipping companies. In normal circumstances the vessel is under time charter to Z Energy to provide a re-fuelling service for cruise ships and commercial vessels calling at the Port of Auckland.

Wayne Mills, Chairman of Seafuels and General Manager Multi-Cargo and Marine at Ports of Auckland, said Z Energy had agreed to release the Awanuia from its time charter in order to facilitate the tanker's participation in the salvage operation.

"We are happy to provide whatever assistance we can," Mr Mills said.

The Awanuia departed Auckland on Friday afternoon and has proceeded to Marsden Point to discharge her current load and create room for the fuel from the Rena. She will depart Marsden Point at 1 pm today and is expected to arrive at the Rena on Sunday morning.

The 80 metre, 3,900 tonne fuel tanker was purchased new by Seafuels in 2009. The tanker, which has a capacity of 25,000 barrels of oil, has state-of-the-art operational and environmental design features, including a double hull construction.

Mr Mills said Ports of Auckland was working closely with its customers and Waterfront Auckland to provide alternative re-fuelling arrangements for incoming ships.

The Ports of Auckland tug the Waka Kume arrived in Tauranga early this morning to assist with the salvage operation.


5.19pm: Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) has mobilised over 100 people in its response to the grounding of the container vessel Rena on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga.

National On Scene Commander Rob Service said the response team was planning for all eventualities, including a large-scale discharge of oil from the ship.

However, he reiterated that almost all the 1700 cubic metres of heavy fuel oil was still contained within the vessel's hull.

Trials of dispersants are continuing today after inconclusive results yesterday. Expert advice was that dispersants were the best option for dealing with any spilled oil. It is not practical to put booms around the vessel because of the sea state and strong currents around the reef.

MNZ is working closely with Svitzer Salvage, the company appointed as salvors for the Rena. Svitzer has several representatives on the vessel. The company is also assembling equipment for their salvage operation. It is coming from around New Zealand, Australia and further afield. In the meantime, the company is focusing on removing the oil on the ship.

Mr Service said the salvage operation was complex and challenging and the salvage company was working methodically through the process to ensure future actions were undertaken safely.

"It is vital that they take all precautions to minimise impacts on the environment. This is not a job that can be rushed."

Specialist oiled wildlife teams are patrolling Motiti Island and Papamoa Beach and shoreline assessments of vulnerable areas are underway. An oiled wildlife facility has been set up at the Tauranga Waste Treatment Plant and is ready to receive any injured wildlife.

By mid afternoon, one penguin had been brought in for treatment and there have been reports of more oiled seabirds in the water. The Little Blue Penguin, which was found on Papamoa Beach, was reported to be in good health this afternoon, despite being oiled.

4.50pm: Ports of Auckland is sending its most powerful tugboat, the Waka Kume, to assist in the salvage of the container ship Rena off the coast of Tauranga.

General Manager Multi-Cargo and Marine Wayne Mills said the port had agreed to a request for assistance from salvage company Svitzer.

Mr Mills said the tug and crew departed Auckland in the early afternoon Friday 7 October and would arrive in Tauranga early in the morning on Saturday 8 October.

Mr Mills said the salvage master would determine how the tug would be used as part of the overall salvage plan.

"We are happy to be able to assist the salvage operation in whatever way we are able."

2.12pm: Maritime New Zealand have announced that no oil-affected animals have been sighted today.

Department of Conservation and National Oiled Wildlife Response Team members are monitoring the area for any injured wildlife and are also in the field checking on reports from the public.

The rescuers recommend that members of the public encountering oiled wildlife do not attempt to handle wildlife themselves, or attempt to move or clean the animals.

Rather, oiled animals will need to be reported to the wildlife team who will transported and treat the animals.

Yesterday four dead oiled birds were observed.

The oiled wildlife response team can be contacted on 0800 333 771 with detailed descriptions of endangered or injured animals.

1.16pm:  Bay of Plenty Times reporter Kiri Gillespie has reported that an oil sheen is visible at water-level within the exclusion zone.

Ms Gillespie said from her position her position at the 1km boundary of the exclusion zone that a narrow band of oil was identifiable within the zone, as well as thick oil clogging the lower parts of the hull of the Rena.

"From this distance, thick black oil can be seen lining the hull," she said.

From sea-level she said the lean of the stricken ship was impressive and the containers on board looked like stacked match boxes.

"It's clearly a ship that's in trouble," she said.

There is presently very little boat activity on the water around the ship, she said, although there were ships inside the exclusion zone surveying the maintenance efforts.

See the latest video footage here...

 11.44am:  Maritime New Zealand have announced it is preparing for an on-water operation to collect heavy fuel oil that has spilled from the container ship Rena.

They say there are also hopes the dispersant, which had been reported as ineffective, may be proving more effective than initially thought.

The outlook remains a concern, although spokeswoman for Maritime New Zealand Sophie Hazelhurst said the oil leaking from the ship was not heavy.

``A relatively small amount of heavy fuel oil has escaped from damaged pipes within the ship, which is stranded on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga, but so far there is no sign that a large amount of oil is being released from the main tanks,'' she said.

The salvage company Switzer is responsible for removing oil from the vessel.

Maritime New Zealand national on-scene commander Rob Service said that aerial surveillance this morning showed that a sheen of oil is still spreading from the ship but there is no evidence of further spillage of heavy fuel oil.

Observers on the flight said there was no sign that oil is moving towards Mayor Island at this stage.

Teams of wildlife rescue staff have been sent to Motiti Island and Te Maunga, and Maritime New Zealand is also preparing to launch a shoreline clean-up in the event that oil reaches land.

Trials have resumed this morning using the dispersant Corexit 9500 after inconclusive results from yesterday's aerial operations.

Vessels and equipment are being assembled to mount an on-water response to collect oil on the water in the vicinity of the ship, in the event that the volume of heavy fuel oil increases significantly.

There is a danger that the crews on the water may be of little value to the operation, Ms Hazelhurst said.

``Current assessments are that the on-water response may be of limited value because of the way the ship is situated and the spread of the oil.''

Four teams involving 12 people are based at Motiti Island and another two field teams will be working on the mainland coast. Shoreline assessment teams have also been mobilised.

Mr Service said that over 90 people were already involved in the response, with more being brought in as the

wildlife and shoreline teams were expanded. International expertise had also been requested.

10.49am:  Matthew Watson, spokesman for Svitzer Salvage, which has been appointed to manage the salvage operation, said last night it was important there were no knee-jerk reactions in dealing with the spill.

``It's a matter of getting the best team and the best equipment in place and that is well underway. It's also important to take several variables into account: how the vessel is sitting in the water, what the tides are doing, what the weather is doing and pulling all the pieces of the puzzle together so the best possible salvage attempt can be made.

``It will be a steady methodical process working to the best possible plan with the aim of getting the best possible outcome

10.40am:  Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) pollution response service manager Andrew Berry told Radio New Zealand he was "very worried" about the threat to the environment posed by the slick.

"It has the potential to be very, very serious indeed, simply because of the age of the ship, the damage that she's sustained and the 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board."

The main priority of salvage crews now was to get as much of the fuel as possible off the ship, he said.

Engineers on board suspected the oil was coming from damaged pipes and was leaking through holes in the hull caused when the ship struck the reef.

Mr Berry confirmed the dispersant being used was the controversial Corexit, which was said to have caused environmental and health problems when it was used during last year's massive spill off the Gulf of Mexico.

"While we'd prefer not to spray it compared to the greater evils of large quantities of heavy fuel oil it's, in our opinion, a considered risk we've taken"

09.05am:  Maritime New Zealand national on-scene commander Rob Service last night said the oil slicks were not headed in the direction of marine reserve Tuhua (Mayor) Island, as had been feared.

Mr Service said reports of oil heading towards Tuhua (Mayor) Island were incorrect. He said the priority is trying to remove the oil from the boat before more could leak.

Salvorson board the vessel were examining how best to resolve the situation.

``Their priority at this stage is to remove the fuel from the vessel to prevent it causing further damage.

``We are aware this situation is causing concern, particularly for Bay of Plenty residents. The situation is being

managed in accordance with the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan and international best practice.

``Our professional and expert MNZ team is being further supported by international advisors with extensive experience in oil spill response to minimise the adverse effects of the spill,'' he said.

09.02am:  A Maritime New Zealand spokesperson said that the next update can be expected at 10.30am.

7 October - 08.55am:

There has been early morning activity at the temporary animal relief centre which has been set up in Te Maunga to cater for oil-slicked birds.

Two large marquees were being raised to house the relief workers.

Trucks at the compound indicate the presence of personnel and equipment supplied from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Department of Conservation as well as Massey University and the Hawkes Bay Regional Council.

Around 35 people from various agencies were debriefed at approximately 8.30am this morning and further details of the wildlife relief effort should be available later.

The temporary bird cleaning and rehabilitation centre in Te Maunga has been established to support the forward base set up on Motiti Island.

The wildlife response follows the discovery of four dead oiled birds in the water near the vessel yesterday.

Maritime New Zealand national on-scene commander Rob Service indicated the operation was increasing its scope.

"Extra equipment and people will be arriving ... to run a recovery operation. We must also prepare for a potential shoreline clean-up," Mr Service said last night.

Clean-up teams will be on beaches today looking for any affected wildlife.


4.00pm:  The Bay of Plenty Times understands that, after a tender process, salvage company Svitzer has been chosen for the operation on the stricken Rena. Svitzer, whose head quarters are in Denmark, is an international wreck salvage firm. It is unsure yet when their crews will arrive to begin their salvage operation.

3.40pm:  Earlier reports that the Rena vessel was carrying dangerous cargo have been confirmed.

A Maritime New Zealand spokesperson said the substance ferrosilicon, a substance which can produce large amounts of hydrogen gas when exposed to water. Hydrogen is extremely flammable.

"We have been advised that the vessel is carrying four containers of ferrosilicon.

"This substance, which is a solid matter, has the potential to cause risk if it comes into contact with water. It can give off hydrogen which can cause a fire risk.

"Fortunately, the goods were identified early and MNZ knows where they are. Any salvage plan will take them into account," they said.

2.33pm:  Four dead birds have been found near the oil slick from the leaking vessel Rena. It is unknown at this stage what species the birds are.

Maritime New Zealand have announced that an oiled wildlife response is being mobilised in Tauranga following reports of oiled birds found in the water near the grounded cargo vessel.

Oiled Wildlife Response co-ordinator Kerri Morgan, from Massey University, said the team has now activated its response plans.

The team had already mobilised equipment which has arrived in Tauranga this afternoon. An oiled wildlife response centre will be set up at the Tauranga Wastewater treatment plant.

A further base will be set up on Motiti Island.

Ms Morgan said around 20 responders were expected to be settled on the island tonight, ready to respond at first light tomorrow. The team on the island will include veterinarians.

A team of expert responders and ornithologists with experience in the capture and treatment of oiled birds would be undertaking beach searches on Motiti Island and the Maketu Peninsula tomorrow morning.

"We have specialist equipment and trained responders here ready to mount whatever response is required.

"We are working closely with representatives from the Department of Conservation here in Tauranga who are providing invaluable local knowledge and expertise," she said.

2.18pm:  The Bay of Plenty Times understands the oil spilling from Rena is now believed to be heavy fuel oil, which would be far worse for the environment that the hydraulic oil which had been reported earlier. However this report is unconfirmed and we will bring you more information as it comes to hand.

1.58pm: Kiri Gillespie reported that there were two helicopters surveying the scene, flying back and forth over the spreading slicks, as well as several boats in the area. Empty container ships with cranes and what appeared to be a fuel ship are waiting a few kilometres south of the stuck vessel.

1.48 pm: Bay of Plenty Times reporter Kiri Gillespie reported from the air at 1.40pm that the oil has spread from a pool at the head of the vessel.

``The oil has leaked like ribbons from the bow of the ship where a pool of the oil has formed. They stretch at least a couple of kilometres to the south and east.

``Some parts are quite thick and murky,'' she said.

1.04 pm: Divers are in the water examining the ship's damaged hull. New Zealand Salvage and Diving Ltd general manager Howard Saunders confirmed there were divers in the water doing "their first dive of the vessel".

Mr Saunders said the owner of the vessel had not yet appointed a salvage company to take control of the salvage operation. He did not know how many salvage companies were involved but confirmed his staff were in the water and examining the ship.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council confirmed the owner of the ship was in talks with a number of salvage companies.

A spokesperson said no decision had yet been made as to which salvage company will take control of the salvage operation. It was unknown when this appointment would be made.

12.50 pm:  The regional harbour master has reminded vessels without authorisation to remain outside the exclusion zone surrounding the grounded cargo ship. Harbour master Carl Magazinovic said the 1km (0.62 mile) exclusion zone remained in effect, and urged people to also avoid the area affected by the 2km oil slick.

"Vessels that approach the site and the slick will potentially disrupt the response effort, and are putting themselves and others at a safety risk. This is a serious situation, and people who are not directly involved in the response effort should not be in the area," he said.

Mr Magazinovic reiterated that significant penalties will apply for people who breach the exclusion zone. The penalty for vessels found entering the exclusion zone is a fine of up to $20,000.

12.36 pm: The oil spill response team is currently conducting an on-water assessment of the oil slick, which stretches from 1,500 to 2,000 metres from the vessel in a narrow ribbon. The team will conduct dispersant field tests to assess the potential effectiveness of a dispersant operation. If the tests are successful, it is likely a dispersant operation will be launched this afternoon.

12.22 pm:  A wildlife response plan is now in action, with specialist oiled wildlife wash and rehabilitation equipment mobilised and underway from Massey University. The equipment is due to arrive in Tauranga this afternoon, and a wildlife centre will be set up.Mr Service said wildlife teams were on standby to join those already in Tauranga to assist with field monitoring and response if and when required.

11.45 am: The Astrolabe Reef, where the ship struck, is a popular diving and fishing spot. Do you have photos of your diving or fishing trips there? We'd love to see - and publish them. Just email them, with a few details, to: news@bayofplentytimes.co.nz<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

11.30 am:  It has just been confirmed by Maritime New Zealand that oil is still leaking from the stranded vessel Rena.




- Bay of Plenty Times

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