A plan to remove the vessel at risk of spilling oil on to an endangered penguin colony after it ran aground will be drafted this week.
The 25m Austro Carina, owned and operated by Lyttelton-based Pegasus Fishing Ltd, ran aground near picturesque Shell Bay on the southeastern side of the Banks Peninsula on Sunday, September 24.
The 140-150 tonne boat is currently still stuck with the gaping hole at the bottom of a 100-metre, potentially unstable cliff.
The unfortunate position of the boat means it cannot be reached, according to the regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan).
“Access to the vessel by water has been heavily restricted by heavy seas, the rugged shoreline, and poor weather over the last week,” Emma Parr, Regional On-Scene Commander for the Harbourmaster’s Office, said.
“Access from land is on foot and weather-dependent.”
Equipment for a refloat of this vessel is not available in New Zealand.
A helicopter recovered the skipper and three crew of the vessel, which was carrying 10,000 litres of diesel and 400 litres of hydraulic oil.
The risk to the environment due to the oil is a real concern to the number of endangered species that call Shelly Bay home.
This includes the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, the white-flippered penguin and little blue penguins.
The bay also hosts the nationally vulnerable spotted shag, along with seals and their pups.
In an update on the current situation, Parr said diesel is currently slowly leaking from the boat.
“The advantage of this is the fuel naturally disperses well, with the environment able to cope and recover quickly,” Parr said.
Further observations from above showed there was no visible oil on the surface or the shore.
“Our priority remains for the safe removal of fuel and debris from the environment including the wreck in its entirety,” Parr said.
“A salvage plan will be drafted this week. Executing this plan will require good weather and safety will be our number one priority.
“Our team is continuing to work with the vessel owner, insurers, and salvage teams to identify opportunities to collect debris from nearby beaches when safe to do so.”
Vessel owner Tony Threadwell told the Herald it was obvious “somebody made a mistake”.
“We’re carrying out an internal inquiry as well - it’s like driving your car and you end up off the road,” he said.
“The crew are physically okay but a bit traumatised.”
He said the 45-year-old boat had no history of accidents.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has confirmed it has opened an inquiry in to the Austro Carina’s grounding, and a dedicated investigation team of two will travel to Canterbury “as soon as practicable”.
“The team’s evidence collection work is broad at first to support the many routes that an investigation could follow,” said chief investigator Naveen Kozhuppakalam.