Public in dark over oil spill

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Port of Tauranga. Photo / APN
Port of Tauranga. Photo / APN

Tauranga's mayor is disappointed the public was not told about an oil spill in Tauranga Harbour last week - even though spots of oil washed up at Pilot Bay.

The Bay of Plenty Times yesterday found out about the oil spill at the Port of Tauranga last Wednesday when Caribbean Liloa lost oil while refuelling.

The paper contacted the Bay of Plenty Regional council and was told an information release had been prepared on the day but had not been released as no one had asked about it.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council pollution prevention manager Nick Zaman said staff from the maritime and pollution prevention team arrived at the scene within 10 minutes of being alerted to the spill.

Mr Zaman said oil was spilt on the deck of the ship and into the water. "While it is too early to ascertain how much oil was lost in total, investigations continue to determine the amount."

Mr Zaman said the clean-up continued overnight and at first light on Thursday, staff assessed the harbour and beaches.

"Oil pollution was observed along the south of Pilot Bay by the toilet blocks to Salisbury Wharf - the area around the berth at the port. Apart from some spots of oil around Pilot Bay, minimal oil was observed. There were no observed environmental effects or reports through the regional council's pollution hotline."

The Liloa was cleaned and left Tauranga on its way to Auckland and interviews with the crew took place in Auckland on Friday.

When asked by the Bay of Plenty Times why the public was not notified, a council spokeswoman said there was no need as the spill occurred late in the day and no further clean up was required. A boat went out to inspect moored boats at first light, and shoreline assessments were carried out soon after to determine if any further response was required. The check on the beach found no further clean up was required.

When the Bay of Plenty Times informed Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby about the spill he said he was disappointed the public was not alerted.

"If there is any oil spill, as a general rule, the public should be alerted. Oil spills do happen and they are generally accidental but the community should be informed."

Mr Crosby said the Tauranga City Council always notified the public if there was a sewerage spill and he expected an oil spill to be treated the same way.

Regional council chairman John Cronin said he was not aware of the spill and would like to know the facts before commenting. "Generally we have an extremely good staff that would be right on top of these events. I will make inquiries now I'm aware of it."

Tauranga Moana Iwi Leaders' Forum Chair Awanui Black said he was not happy it had not been notified about the spill, especially after Rena. "You would have thought we would have been included in their response around the oil spill," he said. "Anything of that nature, iwi need to be factored in. That's essential. And we weren't factored in, so what's up with that?"

Mr Black said the fact the group called themselves Tauranga Moana reflected the affinity local Maori had with the ocean. "That harbour means everything to us. Therefore anything that affects it, it affects us," Mr Black said.

"We are the moana, we are the ocean, that's us."

Port of Tauranga corporate services manager Sara Lunam said they were always concerned about oil spills in the harbour, but the appropriate actions had been taken in this case. She said it would be inappropriate for her to comment about whether the public should have been notified about the spill.

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