Oil spill: Defence Force deployed

By Hayden Donnell, Andrea Warmington

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Oil from the Rena - which is stuck on a Bay of Plenty reef - has washed up along the coast in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Joel Ford
Oil from the Rena - which is stuck on a Bay of Plenty reef - has washed up along the coast in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Joel Ford

Defence Force personnel have been deployed in the emergency response to the grounding of the stricken cargo ship on Tauranga's Astrolabe Reef.

The Liberian-flagged Rena was carrying about 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and about 70 tonnes of marine diesel when it struck the Astrolabe Reef at top speed on October 5.

Today, fist sized clumps of oil began washing ashore at Mt Maunganui's main beach.

About 300 Defence Force personnel have either been deployed or are on standby to assist the Rena Incident Control Team in Tauranga as they work to remove oil and containers from the ship.

"The troops are ready to deploy to Tauranga from Linton, Burnham, as well as Territorial solders from Auckland and Tauranga. Hopefully they won't be necessary, but it is better to be prepared so that we can act quickly should they be needed,'' said Defence Force Joint Task Force Commander David Turner.

The Defence Force already has four boats supporting the operation - a diving support vessel, two inshore patrol vessels and a tanker.

These boats will maintain the exclusion zone around the damaged ship and train in the use of booms and scoops that may be used to capture any released oil.

A SH-2G Seasprite helicopter is assisting with aerial observation and an Iroquois helicopter has also been deployed to Tauranga.

The helicopters will be used to move salvage experts to and from the Rena and take
conservation personnel to outlining locations to check on at risk bird and sea-life populations and are available for any search and rescue tasking if required.

Joyce calls for answers

Transport Minister Stephen Joyce this afternoon called for answers on how the ship came to be stuck on the reef, 3news.co.nz reported.

He confirmed an investigation would look into whether the ship's captain had been drinking, it reported.

Earlier, a union claimed New Zealand authorities had found multiple problems including stricken cargo ship's charts before it ran aground off the coast of Tauranga.

But Maritime New Zealand said the inspection it carried out on the vessel in Bluff was a routine check and did not find any problems with its charts.

The Maritime Union said a source had revealed the Rena was inspected by Maritime New Zealand in Bluff on September 28.

It said the inspection revealed a host of deficiencies with the vessel's charts - in what it labeled a clue as to why it ran aground.

Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood called for a statement from Maritime New Zealand confirming whether it was aware of problems with the ship.

"If so, why was the Rena still sailing on the New Zealand coast?"

The Rena was detained for a day in Fremantle, Western Australia, by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after "serious deficiencies" were found in August.

The authority's report found the vessel had "not been maintained between surveys", the "hatchway cover securing arrangements defective" and cargo was not stowed and secured as stipulated in the cargo securing manual.

A Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman said the September 28 check in Bluff was aimed at making sure those problems had been fixed.

She said its inspector found all the issues had been resolved and cleared for New Zealand waters.

No problems with the vessel's charts were identified, she said.

"It is my understanding no problems were found with the vessel on the 28th."

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the port had had no previous problems with the Rena.

But Mr Fleetwood said a lack of regulations in global shipping meant substandard vessels were travelling the New Zealand coast.

"Our view is that the unregulated nature of Flag of Convenience global shipping will be shown to be the underlying cause of what has happened. We have vessels on the New Zealand coast that are not up to scratch."

- NZ Herald

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