Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena: 'Slow and long process' - Key

What you need to know:
*88 containers have now fallen off the Rena. One of them is a dangerous goods container and 48 are empty.
*Mount Maunganui Beach to Maketu Point is closed to the public.
*Government will consider compensation for BOP businesses .
* 50 tonnes of solid waste and five tonnes of liquid waste has been collected
*A second officer charged over his role in the Rena disaster has appeared in court.
* Bay of Plenty residents living near beaches are being told to keep their windows shut.
*Anyone wanting to help out with the clean-up effort should phone 0800 645 774

The beach is now black with oil as waves bring the toxic material ashore. Photo / Hayden Donnell
The beach is now black with oil as waves bring the toxic material ashore. Photo / Hayden Donnell

Bay of Plenty businesses could receive compensation packages from the Government in the wake of the Rena oil spill.

Prime Minister John Key said today he had discussions with Transport Minister Steven Joyce about the issue of compensation and the Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett would likely be included in further work.

The cost of the spill to livelihoods was still unknown but was largely dependant on the amount of oil spilled and where it leaked, Mr Key said.

However temporary packages were likely to take the shape to those offered to Christchurch businesses after the two major earthquakes.

"It would just depend on how long things were out of action for and who was affected."

The provisional clean-up cost was estimated at $12.1 million - however there was a $3.5m oil levy available to the Government. The issue of who paid was still an ongoing discussion.

"This is the subject of ongoing negotiations and discussions with the owners. I think it's worth mentioning that the Government isn't without legal remedy.

Those options could come through the Resource Management Act or if a case of gross negligence could be proved it would open up other opportunities to the Government.

He said the Rena is now listing at a 20-degree lift with significant cracks in the hull but was still in one piece.

Three salvage workers were airlifted onto the vessel this morning and more operations staff were expected as long as was safe to do so.

Most of the remaining oil is held in two stern-based tanks. One holds 770 tonnes and the other 200-300.

Mr Key said the Awanui was going back out to the vessel.

"So we are going to start that long process again of trying to get the oil off the ship and on the barge but as you know, from the first time we attempted to do that, it's a very complex, slow and long process so we just need to take that one step at a time," Mr Key said.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce backed up Mr Key, saying it was a big task.

"It's going to take a very long time. It is truly a marathon, not a sprint."

Protest over government action

Despite the Government's claims that the situation would take some time to resolve, a small group of protesters marched down Wellington's Lambton Quay today to protest what it says is government slowness to act.

One protester told APNZ the Government had not acted quickly enough to stop the unfolding disaster in the Bay of Plenty.

But one onlooker, Allan Johnson, had a go at the protesters, saying they were trying to turn it into a election issue when it had nothing to do with the Government.

He said the captain the second officer had been charged and it was their fault, not the Government's.

Mr Johnson, who admitted to being a National supporter, said it was easy to blame people rather than come up with constructive solutions.

Break-up 'inevitable'

The salvors of a cargo ship at the centre of New Zealand's worst marine environmental disaster say it's inevitable the boat will break up as authorities battle to disperse oil which has been leaking from the vessel.

Eighty-eight containers have now fallen from the stricken ship Rena, with some now washing up on Mount Maunganui beach, and more to come.

Of the 88 containers that have fallen off the ship, 75 are forty foot containers and 13 are twenty foot containers.

"There is not very much room for optimism, it looks as if a best case scenario could by trying to at least get the oil off the vessel and then working out what to do with the vessel should she break up," Svitzer spokesman Matthew Watson told Newstalk ZB.

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

Mr Watson said you only have to look at the damage to the sides of the vessel to realise how precarious it is.

The ship is sitting at a 20 degree angle and a crack on the Rena has widened to around one metre in width at the top.

Meanwhile the number of containers which have now fallen from the ship was up from an earlier estimate of 70 last night, Maritime NZ officials said this morning.

One of them is a dangerous goods container. Other containers hold items such as milk powder, dairy products, timber and pelts.

At least four containers, with some holding beef patties and freeze dried coffee have hit the Mount shore.

nzherald.co.nz reporter Hayden Donnell reports more cargo can be seen floating less than 1km out to sea, meaning more will be landing today.

A total of 1386 containers were on board the ship when it struck a Tauranga reef last week.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said a specialist company had been engaged to remove the containers. The Mount beach will be closed at midday to assess the contents of the containers.

Rena to be assessed

Meanwhile a survey vessel has been to the reef to check the reef's topography and a salvage inspection team have also been dispatched to check on the state of the Rena.

Mr Joyce said it was going to be a very big day for crews working on the Rena.

"This is not a case of cleaning up on the day. This is going to be going to go on and on.

"I met the salvage master. He cautioned me there's a lot of work to do and that this is not going to be a simple exercise because they don't know the state of the ship."

Crews will today first assess the Rena's safety. If that is okay, they will then look at generator and power systems on the vessel.

Once that is done, pumping systems will be checked.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Sophie Hazlehurst says there's no question about the seriousness of the situation.

"It has suffered significant structural failure and now has cracks on both sides of the ship's hull, however there is no imminent chance of it breaking up."

At least one tug is tied to the Rena to help it hold together.

Elsewhere the situation on Papamoa beach has worsened significantly today. The beach is now black with oil with black oily waves pumping shore.

Health warnings

As the environmental crisis deepened, authorities have issued health warnings to those living near Bay of Plenty beaches that the smell of fuel oil would get worse and advising them to keep windows shut.

Herald reporters and photographers flying over Papamoa Beach this morning said the smell of oil in the air was "disturbing" and "unusual". A Newstalk ZB reporter on the ground said it was intolerable.

Maritime New Zealand has also issued a notice restricting the public from accessing the area from Mount Maunganui to Maketu Point, including the Maketu Estuary.

Toll of disaster hits home

The toll the disaster already inflicted on the Bay of Plenty was disturbingly clear from the air yesterday afternoon.

Six vessels had been mobilised to clean up the mess of battered containers, timber, cardboard, wrapping and other debris bobbing in the water amid a thick, purplish slick stretching kilometres southward from the ship.

Other containers - some ripped apart and emptied of their contents - could be seen being dashed against the rocky shores of Motiti Island, itself ringed by a greenish hue.

Containers still on the ship were pancaked on one another and threatening to tumble overboard, making conditions extremely dangerous for salvage crews on board.

Eight containers have fallen overboard from the ship's deck.

Maritime New Zealand's on-scene commander, Nick Quinn, said he was confident he had the people, equipment and plans to cope with the increasing scale of the Rena disaster.

Oil expected to wash up for weeks

Oil was expected to continue washing up on Bay of Plenty beaches for weeks, which would result in around 10,000 tonnes of sandy waste.

Twenty teams totalling about 250 were working on the beaches and four vessels were in Tauranga's harbour to deal with any oil there.

Navy and air force helicopters were monitoring the oil movement.

The Rena's 17 crew members are understood to be scheduled to meet a senior official from the Philippine Embassy today. Giovanni Palec arrived in Tauranga from Wellington last night.

Maritime Union of New Zealand general secretary Joe Fleetwood said union representatives wanted to discuss issues with the crew, including serious worries about the conditions on board the Rena.

"We wanted to discuss things like how these guys are, their accommodation, back pay and even repatriation, but that might not happen because they could be called as witnesses to court."

The workers had put in "massive hours" beyond their collective agreement and had been intending to resolve a back-pay issue while the Rena was in Tauranga.

Anyone wishing to volunteer in the clean-up effort should register online here or call 0800 645 774. For other offers of help please email iccrena@gmail.com with 'Volunteers - 1 for all' in the subject line, full name, contact number and relevant experience.


- NZ Herald

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