Rena: Booster pump blows out

By Jamie Morton, Paul Harper, Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times

The container ship Rena. Photo / Maritime New Zealand
The container ship Rena. Photo / Maritime New Zealand

Stop-and-start efforts to pump oil from the stricken Rena were hit with another setback today when a booster pump brought into speed up the process short-circuited shortly after off-loading began at noon today.

Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said the blown pump was flown out at about 2.30pm and a spare unit was being installed to clear the remaining 1260 tonnes onboard.

The oil was being fed from the Rena's port number 5 tank, with the next priority to access and clear fuel in the submerged starboard side tank.

Salvors were meanwhile sealing the doors to the ship's engine room to keep out water and maintain the Rena's bouyancy on Astrolabe Reef.

Eighty-eight containers were overboard - including seven near Whale Island and three further east - and the 29 unaccounted for were being sought with sonar equipment.

Oil was continuing to wash up at "collection points" between Mt Maunganui and Maketu - where 800 bags of oil were recovered at Maketu Spit today - and response teams were responding to reports of oil at Whakatane spit and Ohope spit.

National on scene commander Ian Niblock said some oil about 20cm below the sand was causing problems and meant beaches would remain closed before it could be recovered.

The 45km exclusion zone around the Rena was still being reviewed by the Bay of Plenty harbour master.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the salvors had a window of five days but it would take a 10-tonne an hour pump rate to make him confident of being "out of the woods of this environmental disaster".

Protests over drilling

Protesters climbed trees and roared through wire fence surrounding the Rena response control centre in an effort to have their opposition to deep-sea drilling heard.

About 70 people gathered at the former Foodtown supermarket after a crowd of at least 100 first made their presence known outside Tauranga District Court and on The Strand yesterday.

The group was protesting proposed oil drilling offshore from the East Cape at the Raukumara Basin.

That included chants of: "East Coast, West Coast, coast to coast, we don't want oil anywhere. Stop deep-sea drilling now.''

The group was made up mostly of Greenpeace and Te Whanau a Apanui iwi members who came together to support fisherman Elvis Teddy, who is charged in connection with protest action.

Teddy was arrested for breaching the Maritime Transport Act after police boarded his protest boat in April amid protests against oil giant Petrobras off the East Cape.

He briefly appeared in Tauranga District Court yesterday on crutches and was further remanded on bail until December 8.

Armed with airhorns, duck callers, signs and banners, protesters lined the entry to the Incident Control Centre before directing their verbal fire through the centre's wire fencing.

Some were dressed in white tyvek suits with masks and gloves, all of which are used in the oil clean-up, as they held signs up to the fence chanting ``no drilling off the coast'' and "get the oil off the beach''.

Others climbed trees and held up signs.

Extra security and police were called.

Kara Dobie from Te Whanau a Apanui iwi said they chose to gather outside the control centre so they could communicate to the Government their opposition to deep-sea drilling plans.

"We just want to let Maritime New Zealand know that we are out and fighting for our case,'' she said.

Te Whanau a Apanui's Dayle Takitimu said the Government should be held responsible.

"The Bay of Plenty is no longer the plenty of anything except oil and it's not good enough. Rena is our big sign post to tell the rest of the world and the rest of the country that New Zealand is not ready to deal with oil spills.''

The crowd were at the centre for about 45 minutes before some left to continue a ``third phase'' of protest at Bayfair shopping centre.

A Greenpeace spokesman who was holding a "drill, spill, kill'' sign said they were there in support of iwi members expressing their disgust at deep-sea drilling, particularly the proposed oil drilling off the coast of the East Cape, their home.

"The oil spill of the Rena is just a small example of how the Government is not able to deal with this kind of incident. If there was an oil spill from deep-sea drilling, that would be a big, big problem.''

It was unclear for this edition if there were any arrests from the protest.

MP for Tauranga Simon Bridges said he had been told the majority of the protesters were out-of-towners.

"But the reality is the Rena disaster had nothing to do with deep-sea oil exploration, it was a container ship which hit a reef and grounded.

"To confuse the issue and directly link a container ship full of wine, food and other basic commodities hitting a reef with oil exploration is entirely illogical,'' he said.

Pumping resumes

Meanwhile, the pumping of oil has resumed on the stricken cargo ship Rena this afternoon as oil clean-ups continue across the Bay of Plenty.

Three three-man salvage teams were this morning airlifted on to the Rena, which has been grounded on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga for more than a fortnight.

Pumping operations resumed at 12.09pm, salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said.

"A number of safety checks needed to be carried out [before pumping could resume]," Anderson said.

"This is an extremely involved and highly complex operation. The last thing we want to do is rush this and then have an oil spill from the pumping process."

The salvors were expected to stay overnight on the ship, which was in a more stable situation amid light breezes and swells.

The Rena did not appear to have suffered further damage overnight.

Meanwhile oil and debris was continuing to wash up at certain "collection points" between Papamoa and Mt Maunganui and some oiled debris had been confirmed as far away as the East Cape.

Volunteer beach clean-ups have resumed at the main Mount Maunganui beach and Maketu.

About 6000 volunteers are now registered to help with clean-up efforts.

National On Scene Commander Ian Niblock said there were no reports of new oil on beaches or from the vessel, however oiled debris had washed up in parts of the East Cape.

"Oil is occurring at natural collection points along the coast from Mt Maunganui to Maketu and we're using these collection points as a base for ongoing clean-up operations.

"We're well prepared and have response options in place with more than 6000 volunteers, along with daily surveillance from air and on shore.

"We're also reviewing the beach closures for the Bay of Plenty coastline, aware that the long weekend is coming up. We want people to enjoy themselves, but the safety of the public is paramount.

"We do need to remind local communities to not touch any oil or oiled debris and to report it to 0800 OIL SPILL. It's also important not to eat seafood in areas where there has been or currently is oil contamination," Mr Niblock said.

An exclusion zone around the ship is also being reviewed today by Tauranga's harbour master.

Cracks widen

Four salvors who stayed on board yesterday had to be brought off last night as vessels around the Rena kept watch.

A large crack in the starboard side had widened over past days but it was thought the ship's condition had not significantly deteriorated further.

The exclusion zone stretching about 45km around the ship is being reviewed by the harbour master.

The zone may be extended because of safety issues over floating debris and containers outside the present zone.

An update would be provided this afternoon.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce described the situation as a "real waiting game" that was as frustrating to salvors as anyone else.

And he was revealing little of what compensation would be offered to affected businesses - and whether Rena owners Costamare Shipping would foot the entire bill for the disaster.

Costamare yesterday thanked those involved in the response effort - but did not clarify whether its insurance cover would meet all costs.

Ongoing talks between the Crown, lessees Mediterranean Shipping Company and Costamare were legally privileged, Mr Joyce said.

"We will be fully resolving those matters as to who is liable for what."

Mr Joyce could also not say what the final cost of the disaster was likely to be.

- NZ Herald

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