Ian Lowe, the region's on-scene commander for marine oil spills, practises skimming oil off the surface of seawater at Whanganui's Wharf St slipway.

Mr Lowe and groups from Horizons Regional Council, Rural Fuel, Maritime New Zealand and Rural Fire yesterday tried out the oil spill equipment that's stored at Kairanga. They placed two booms to contain the spill, which would then be skimmed off, vacuumed into a tank and taken away.

Mr Lowe said the region has had just one oil spill, in early June last year, when oily waste washed up on the coast between Foxton and Himatangi. A team of 90 took nearly a week to pick up about 2.5 tonnes of it. No one had been able to find out where it came from so no one has been prosecuted.

The oil spill team is required to practise its response twice a year, and Mr Lowe said the last practise was a desk top exercise.