Rena spill: Progress lifts hopes for oil salvage

Two booster pumps recently installed on the foundered Rena have sped up the pumping rate from the port tank. Photo / Maritime New Zealand
Two booster pumps recently installed on the foundered Rena have sped up the pumping rate from the port tank. Photo / Maritime New Zealand

The prospect of clearing all the heavy fuel oil from the grounded Rena container vessel and averting further beach spills has increased after the salvage team made good progress yesterday.

With the sea near calm in sunny weather around Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty - and likely to stay that way for the next five days - the salvors had by yesterday afternoon pumped nearly half of the Rena's remaining oil to the waiting barge Awanuia.

Meanwhile, little blue penguins affected by the oil spill were to be moved to a new enclosure at the wildlife response centre at Te Maunga.

Builders were aiming to finish three of the planned 10 aviaries yesterday. Each aviary can house 25 birds.

A total of 645 tonnes of oil has been taken off the stricken ship, leaving 700 tonnes of the original load of 1700 tonnes on board.

Early in the salvage operation, 355 tonnes of the oil spilled into the sea and on to Western Bay of Plenty beaches.

The main rear port tank, holding 772 tonnes, was nearly cleared, and the salvage team was pumping from the settling tanks in the engine room and transferring the 220 tonnes of oil to the rear tank, and then to the Awanuia.

"The good piece of news is that we have started on the second main source of oil and the divers are operating in murky corridor spaces. These guys are tough," said Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson.

He said two booster pumps installed on Sunday had sped up the pumping rate from the port tank, and the salvage teams were continuing to work on ways to extract oil from the submerged starboard tank and two settling tanks in the engine room.

The salvors now had a lighting system.

"This is important, because they have been working in dark, oily corridors, which is clearly risky and challenging," he said.

"The lighting will make the working environment safer for the teams on board. They have also loaded heavy-duty compressors to aid the pumping system."

Maritime NZ's on-scene commander, Rob Service, said there had been no significant release of oil from the Rena yesterday and his team was tracking the five to 10 tonnes that escaped on Saturday.

The oil was heading north towards Mayor Island and the Coromandel, and it could reach the shoreline south of Whangamata.

"The oil will be in the water for five to six days and it will be broken up into small patties and tarballs," Mr Service said.

The number of dead birds was at 1370 last night, and examinations were being carried out to determine if oil was the cause of death.

Wildlife response teams have been sent to assess how best to protect wildlife on Tuhua/Mayor Island, where the five to 10 tonnes of oil that spilled on Saturday were forecast to beach this week.

Victim Support is on standby to help if the owners of the Rena deliver bad news to those with containers of treasured belongings on board.

- APNZ

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