Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Big teams mobilise to clear toxic Rena oil

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A resident walks past bags full of oil cleaned up from Tay Street Beach near Mt Maunganui, after it washed up from the container ship Rena. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A resident walks past bags full of oil cleaned up from Tay Street Beach near Mt Maunganui, after it washed up from the container ship Rena. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Response teams and volunteers will be out in force today mopping up the toxic oil from the Rena which is spilling onto the Tauranga coast.

Two hundred trained workers have been organised into 20 official oil response teams and will be working from Papamoa northwards to Mt Maunganui, picking up the oil as it lands on the shore.

As well, about 1000 volunteers have registered with Maritime New Zealand.

The response teams will be assisted by 100 New Zealand Defence Force personnel and three Coromandel-based mussel ships which have been called into action.

And a marine team that specialises in boom deployment will look to deploy the oil-blocking devices near the shore.

Nick Quinn, national on-scene commander, said the clean-up would be "days to potentially weeks of effort".

"We're going to start being involved in significant oil and significant waste issues."

Meanwhile, the Port of Tauranga said it would shut down the port if necessary to help with the clean up.

Sustainable Coastline's director Sam Judd said the scale of the environmental disaster would be much worse this morning as up to 350 tonnes of oil which leaked from the Rena makes its way to the shore.

"It's a hell of a lot of oil to land on our coastline. In terms of cleaning it up, we've had lots and lots of people contacting us from all sectors of the community wanting to help. But the difficult part of the situation is that Maritime New Zealand, which has been charged with cleaning up the disaster, has told people not to go and clean up the beach."

Sustainable Coastlines works with volunteers year-round to help clean New Zealand's beaches of rubbish.

The charity had been directing people to register their interest in volunteering with Maritime NZ.

Mr Judd said the Government needed to utilise the thousands of people who were ready to help and clean up the toxic oil.

"There's a lot of people who care about the coastline and want to do something," he said.

"The force of the people who live on the coastline is huge. You need to tap into every source of help - think of the volunteer force that want to clean up their own beaches, that's massive."

Mr Judd warned people not to go and pick up the "horrible, smelly, toxic" oil without educating themselves first.

He said instructions on how to clear the oil safely should be distributed to everyone in the area or those who wanted to help.

"This is huge. It will take a long, long time to clean it up - we've never seen anything on this scale before. It could take years," Mr Judd said.

The clean-up teams will be dealing with highly weathered oil which is extremely hazardous when it comes in contact with skin. There's also the risk of inhaling oil droplets in the air which can irritate the eyes, ears and nose.

Officials have urged people to stay off the beach over fears the oil could be spread onto the mainland.

People have also been warned to keep animals off the beach and to take their pets to the vet if they become ill.

Niwa marine ecologist Drew Lohrer said there were bacteria in the ocean which could break down oil.

"It may take years or decades for it to disappear naturally. This is why it is imperative to clean up as much of the spill as possible," he said.

Clean-up effort

* 200 official oil response workers
* 1000 volunteers
* 100 NZ Defence Force personnel
* 3 Coromandel-based mussel ships
* 1 Boom deployment team

Port Tauranga on standby to close down.

- NZ Herald

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