Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Oil spill: Stricken ship's safety issues revealed

The container ship, Rena, sits on Astrolabe Reef, off Motiti Island, in the Bay of Plenty. Photo / Supplied
The container ship, Rena, sits on Astrolabe Reef, off Motiti Island, in the Bay of Plenty. Photo / Supplied

Safety issues dogged the stricken container ship spewing oil into the Bay of Plenty as far back as July, it was revealed yesterday.

Fresh oil has been reported as leaking this morning from the MV Rena, which ran aground on the Astrolabe reef last week.

The Rena was detained in Australia that month, and 12 days ago it was warned about problems with its safety record during an inspection in Bluff.

Maritime New Zealand said authorities found the Rena's safety checklist was not working effectively.

This meant mechanical failures, some of which led to the Rena's detention in Australia, were not picked up.

Last night, TV3 and Investigate magazine's website reported that the Rena came close to hitting an oil tanker near Napier on October 2, two days before it hit the reef. The reports said the tanker took evasive action.

The Maritime Union has alleged the Rena did not have proper navigation charts.

Maritime NZ spokesman Ross Henderson said vessels were supposed to have an "international safety management system".

"The deficiencies that were being picked up [in Bluff] indicated to us that that system wasn't working as effectively as it should be.

"It was not serious enough to warrant detaining the vessel, but it was a matter we needed to note on the record."

Maritime NZ recommended a review in three months when the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned ship was due in Singapore.

In July, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Rena in Fremantle after "a number of deficiencies" were found.

An authority spokesman told the Herald the overnight detention was "not uncommon". The crew had been asked to fix defective hatchway covers and incorrectly stowed cargo.

Ship's owners say it had no problems

A spokesman for the company that owns the Rena, Daina Shipping, last night said the ship had a "clean bill of health" and its technical problems were rectified before it left Australia.

He said the Rena was given the all-clear for New Zealand waters after the inspection at Bluff on September 28.

There were no problems with the ship's navigation and charting systems and the New Zealand authorities would make a full investigation into why it struck the reef.

Preparation for cleanup

Yesterday, Defence Force troops were called in to help in the clean-up as oil blobs began to wash up on kilometres of otherwise pristine beach.

Three hundred troops from Auckland, Tauranga and Canterbury have mobilised to clear the oil, which Transport Minister Steven Joyce said could continue to wash onshore for months.

The arrival of the tar-like patties of oil at Mt Maunganui and Papamoa beaches yesterday morning brought home the reality of the crisis looming 20km offshore, where the leaking, grounded container ship continues to threaten environmental disaster.

Authorities are facing criticism over a delay in warning about the oil.

Many more of the sticky oil clumps are expected to wash further up the beaches over the next few days amid worsening weather, high tides and heavy swells.

Papamoa resident Sandra Williams said thousands of people living near the beach wanted to help but "there's no leadership going on here".

"It's appalling," one woman muttered, while stepping around a large clump.

Protective booms have been placed at the vulnerable Maketu Estuary, but Maritime NZ's on-scene commander, Rob Service, could not guarantee they would stop the oil harming its wildlife.

A wildlife base at Mt Maunganui has received nine birds, including seven little blue penguins, but no new birds were brought in yesterday.

Veterinarian Brett Gartrell said it would be impossible to gauge how much wildlife could die in the slick, but only 10 per cent of all affected wildlife was expected to be recovered.

Bad weather, hook-up problems make oil removal a slow job

* Little progress has been made in the long, slow job of ridding the MV Rena of its 1700 tonnes of oil and 200 tonnes of diesel.

* The bunker barge Awanuia, capable of off-loading 3000 tonnes, has been able to pump only 10 tonnes amid bad weather and trouble hooking up to the Rena.

* In good conditions, the pumping would take between 30 to 40 hours. But the 25-person salvage team onboard made a small step forward by transferring all of the oil from one of the port tanks in the grounded end of the ship to a rear tank, where it is safer.

* Salvors are trying to repeat the process on the Rena's starboard side, but must extract volatile gases before the oil operator can start using pumps.

- NZ Herald

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