Rena: Hundreds cleaning beaches

By Hayden Donnell, APNZ, Herald Online, Sharon Lundy

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.

Army personnel pictured at work cleaning up the latest oil spill to hit Papamoa Beach from the Rena today. Photo / Alan Gibson
Army personnel pictured at work cleaning up the latest oil spill to hit Papamoa Beach from the Rena today. Photo / Alan Gibson

About 500 oil spill responders have been on Bay of Plenty beaches today, removing patches of gluggy spillage from the stranded and breaking Rena.

The heaviest concentration of oil has been on Papamoa beach.

Wildlife is dying and the area's pristine white sand beaches are turning black with oil and are dotted with containers which have been lost overboard.

By early today around 50 tonnes of solid waste and five tonnes of liquid waste had been scooped from beaches, reported Newstalk ZB.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Teams are continuing to conduct assessments from Waihi to Whakatane.

National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn is urging people to respect the job his team is doing on the beaches.

"Of course we understand the public curiosity, but safety is our top priority so please let us get on with the job,'' Mr Quinn said.

"We are now restricting beach access, so we'd also ask people to be patient while we deal with what's coming ashore.

"The restrictions are in place to ensure the safety of the public, and to ensure our trained responders and volunteers can get on with cleaning up this oil.''

Access has been restricted from Mount Maunganui to Maketu Point, including the Maketu Estuary.

MNZ has also decided not to use any more of the aerial dispersant Corexit 9500 because it has been shown to be insufficient to justify its application to the spilled oil. ``We have consequently ended the aerial application trials and will continue to assess all response options,'' said MNZ.

Two vessels are preparing for offshore booming, should this be viable.

There are six vessels patrolling in the harbour picking up debris that has come from the Rena.

Apology

Earlier this afternoon, Rena owner Diamantis Manos apologised "without hesitation'' for the Bay of Plenty's unfolding environmental disaster.

The container ship struck Astrolabe Reef, 20km off Tauranga, at full speed early last Wednesday and is leaking oil. Wildlife is dying and the area's pristine white sand beaches are turning black with oil and are dotted with containers which have been lost overboard.

Costamare Shipping Company SA managing director Diamantis Manos today issued an apology via video in which he apologised and vowed to co-operate with the investigation.

"To the people of Tauranga, we want to say that we are deeply sorry for the situation that has arisen and the threat you are now facing from fuel oil from the vessel washing up on the beaches in your beautiful part of the world,'' he said.

"It is our ship that went aground and we apologise without hesitation for what has happened.''

The company had sent experts from around the world to help deal with the situation and they were working closely with Maritime New Zealand and other agencies, as well as salvors, to try to stabilise the ship and mitigate its effects.

It would co-operate with the Transport Accident Investigation Commission's investigation and had invited it to visit its offices so it could see the safety management system employed on the Rena.

Salvage crews on board

The Rena is holding together well enough for salvage crews to get on board, but the entire front section of the stricken ship is flooded.

Maritime New Zealand salvage manager Bruce Anderson confirmed this afternoon that salvage teams had been on the craft for four hours today, and had just arranged an extra hour after concluding it was safe to operate on.

Mr Anderson said the vessel was holding together and water was pushing it further onto the reef, with the entire front section now flooded.

While they have managed to board the ship, transport minister Steven Joyce said it may be too dangerous to work inside the hull of the craft.

"I have to take my hat off to these guys. They're working in a challenging, and can I say dangerous, environment."

Mr Anderson said it was estimated the vessel lost up to 700 tonnes of oil overboard.

Mr Anderson said getting the remaining oil off the craft would be a "very tough" job - both dangerous and difficult.

"The best case scenario is we get everything off.

"The last thing we want to do is injure someone or kill someone."

He said salvors had a narrow window of good weather to work in.

The oil that has already leaked will take some time to clean up, but officials confirmed this afternoon that dispersant will no longer be used on it.

About 200 litres of dispersant was used on a small spill of fresh oil from the vessel this morning, but it was not effective enough to justify its continued use.

Environmental advisor Leigh Stevens said the dispersant would still be kept in the toolbox for possible future use.

Mr Quinn said the oil was likely to take days or weeks to clean up.

"This is going to go on day after day."

He said volunteers were now seeing a high number of wildlife fatalities.

Rare dotterel have been taken from their nesting sites around Tauranga and relocated to the wildlife recovery centre at Te Maunga, Mr Joyce said. Seals are also being moved.

Mr Quinn said oil was leaking to the southeast of the Rena. Its main path runs around the north and west of Motiti Island and down to Papamoa Beach.

Tauranga City Mayor Stuart Crosby said all beaches from Mount Manganui to Maketu were now closed to the public.

Compensation considered

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.

- NZ Herald

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