Rena spill: Second officer charged

By Edward Gay, Hayley Hannan, APNZ staff, NZ Herald

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Crates float in the sea after falling from the Rena today, with the ship not expected to remain intact for much longer. Photo / supplied
Crates float in the sea after falling from the Rena today, with the ship not expected to remain intact for much longer. Photo / supplied

Maritime New Zealand has charged a second officer from the crippled container ship Rena for 'operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk'.

The captain of the ship - whose name has been suppressed - appeared in the Tauranga District Court today on the same charge.

The second officer was in charge of the navigational watch of the Rena and will appear in court tomorrow.

The captain was remanded on bail until October 19, on the condition he surrender his passport.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of $10,000, or a maximum term of imprisonment of 12 months.

Salvage workers focus on oil

Salvage workers will be helicoptered onto a precariously tilting and cracking Rena at first light tomorrow - if the ship doesn't topple onto its side or crack in half overnight.

A large fracture has spread all the way around the hull of the stricken cargo ship and officials say it is now just a matter of time until the ship breaks into two pieces.

Svitzer, a specialist company, has been hired to carry out the salvage efforts for the cracking cargo vessel.

Spokesman Matthew Watson said the salvage plan priorities were to get the remaining oil off the boat and pick up stray floating containers.

"The focus tomorrow at first light will be endeavouring to get salvors back on to the vessel. They would have to be winched down by helicopter, that is the only safe way to access the vessel.

"When they get on board, they would have to do another assessment of the vessel, ascertain its' structural integrity and see what additional damage and the extent of the additional damage since they evacuated yesterday.

"Then if it's deemed safe enough for them to be there, they would immediately look at trying to get the oil back off the vessel. They would resume the oil transfer process.''

He said the oil transfer process started on Sunday, but had to abandoned the efforts because of bad weather.

"In tandem, the other priority is intercepting and corralling the numerous containers and debris that have come off the vessel.

"A series of smaller vessels are in the process of being mobilised, including a large crane vessel from Wellington which should be in place by tomorrow morning.''

He said the collection of containers and various debris was dangerous because the items might not be visible to the naked eye.

The crane vessel would focus on rounding up lost containers and would not attempt to get the remaining containers off the ship, he said.

"There is a very high chance that some more containers might fall into the water. Even to get a crane vessel near the stricken vessel at the moment is a dangerous exercise. It's too rough, so for the moment, the focus is getting the containers already in the water and the oil off the boat.''

The weather conditions would be assessed first thing in the morning to decide whether a salvage team can board the ship, if it was still in one piece, he said.

"The biggest fear is that the ship is going to keep going and topple over to one side. That can't be ruled out.''

The stricken vessel was now tilting on an 18 to 20 degree angle and was starting to crack.

"The ship has grounded in a very awkwards and precarious way....There is a very serious crack on the starboard side of the hull and a serious crease on the port side of the hull.''

He said the salvage plan was fluid and flexible at the moment, and had been changing frequently to move with the situation over the last few days.

A Maritime NZ spokesman said the Rena is now being held together only by its internal components and there was a possibility it could break in half.

Defence spokesman Paul Stein said four Navy vessels were in the area, helping the Maritime New Zealand effort.

Mr Stein said HMNZS Rotoiti, Taupo, Endeavour and Manawanui were patrolling the exclusion zone and ferrying people.

Navy vessels also helped in the evacuation of the Rena.

"They have the skills and discipline in the conditions that they find at the moment. I suggest it is an uncomfortable place to be.''

Weather conditions to ease

Stormy weather conditions affecting the salvage of the stricken container ship will begin to ease tomorrow, says NIWA.

NIWA principal scientist Mike Revell has been monitoring the wind, rain and sea-state for services working to salvage the ship, which is stuck on Astrolabe reef off the coast of Tauranga.

Using the forecasting system EcoConnect, he predicted the wind, rain and stormy seas would ease over the next day.

He said strong winds, which have reached gusts of up to 60km/h today, should die down by the morning after turning to a westerly direction.

"They should swing round to west and be quite a lot lighter. They should be back to about 15-20km/h.''

He said waves should drop to two metres tomorrow, and the area should see calm sea conditions by Friday.

"In the westerly, the waves will tend to die away. They were generated in a big north-easterly fetch, driving them straight into the Tauranga area. They will be decreasing as the wind drops.''

He said rain should also lessen over the next few days.

"I think generally things are looking up.''

In the next couple of days, NIWA scientists will be able to forecast where the oil spilling from the stuck ship will travel.

Scientists are using the River and Coastal Ocean Model (RICOM) to forecast the direction of the slick and where the oil will hit the shore.

Cracks getting worse

Earlier this afternoon, a Maritime NZ spokesman said the Rena is now only being held together by its internal components after the crack around its structure got worse.

"We have to look at reality. It is obviously being moved in the sea, the back half of the ship has been under extreme pressure for days."

Aerial footage taken by TVNZ shows the hull of the vessel grounded on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga cracked open.

Prime Minister John Key this afternoon said the substantial fractures in the vessel made it much more likely to break up on the reef.

He defended the amount of time it had taken the Government to respond to the disaster, saying the operation had been carried out as swiftly as possible.

"I can understand people wanting to believe that this could be fixed more quickly. But the Government doesn't hold a magic wand...

"We are moving as quickly as we can."

Salvage team captain John Walker said the condition of the ship was deteriorating.

Three tugboats were ready to head to the Rena in an attempt to pump more oil out if weather conditions allowed the operation, he said.

A Maritime New Zealand spokesman said it was possible a fuel tank could be ruptured if the Rena broke up - allowing more oil to leak into the sea.

However, salvage teams had capped the tanks before leaving the vessel and it was possible no more oil would escape, he said.

The aerial footage also showed a container from the vessel emitting bright blue smoke as it floated in the ocean.

Hundreds of dead birds have been found dead on the beaches around Tauranga as the oil from the container ship continues to cause environmental havoc.

Maritime New Zealand is considering issuing face masks to people living near beaches affected by the oil and New Zealand soldiers are now clearing up the Tauranga beaches affected by oil from the stricken container ship Rena.

The "world's best" navy architects are preparing reports on the damage to the Rena, while the ship's captain - who turned 44 on the day of the accident - has had his name supressed during a brief appearance in court.

Wildlife killed

Environmental response teams have found 200 birds killed in oil spilled from the stricken Rena cargo ship off the coast of Tauranga.

They are expecting that death toll to rise again sharply.

Department of Conservation spokesman Mike Patt said dead seabirds, including blue penguins and shags, were still picked up by teams trawling through oil on Bay of Plenty beaches.

Many had died of hypothermia brought on by being soaked in the oil, he said.

"It's like being in the mountains and losing your coat really."

A wildlife treatment facility at Te Maunga is treating 26 oiled birds, Mr Patt said.

- NZ Herald

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