Once the backdrop for hit show The Amazing Race, Mt Maunganui yesterday presented a different picture to its host Phil Keoghan when he dropped by to lend a hand with the Rena clean-up.

The Christchurch-born, Los Angeles-based presenter donned a white boilersuit and joined other volunteers in the hope of bolstering international awareness of the unfolding oil-spill crisis in the Bay of Plenty.

The eight-time Emmy Award winner, who is renowned for combining philanthropy with his love of adventure, was joined at Main Beach by his father, Canterbury agricultural scientist Dr John Keoghan.

"I've been here many times. When you think of the area, you think of its beaches, and my first thought was, what's going to happen to its beaches?" Keoghan said.


Seeing the thick black ooze for himself, Keoghan said the situation was worse than he thought.

"What a mess. It really is a mess."

Keoghan, whose hit show visited Tauranga for its 13th season three years ago, said he had followed the disaster from overseas and felt compelled to keep it in the spotlight. A camera crew trailed him around the beach and he hoped his US profile would spur The Amazing Race broadcasters, CBS, to pick up the story.

The disaster had now faded from headlines overseas, he said.

"I can't come here and help physically ... but what I can do is come here and at least draw attention to what is going on here and to those people who really are helping ... and to make sure this story stays in the news.

"We've got 1000 tonnes of oil sitting in a ship out there that could break up at any time. If this is what 300 tonnes looks like - and they say they've taken off 700 tonnes of oil and debris - that gives you some idea of just how much each tonne of oil does."

Keoghan described the oil as "really nasty" and said the job of removing it was painstaking.

"I had 15 to 20 minutes on my hands and knees, it's backbreaking work. I said to my dad, when you pick up these pieces of oil ... it gives you a sense of just how important it is to get this stuff off the ship."

After the Christchurch earthquake in February, Keoghan flew home to support relief efforts and report the story back to the United States.

"The big difference with this situation and the Christchurch earthquake was that Christchurch was an act of God, it was something that was unavoidable, it happened and there was nothing you could do about that," he said. "I don't know what's going to come from the inquiry, but this was avoidable and that's the sad part of it - this didn't have to happen."

But Keoghan was left humbled at the thousands of volunteers who had stepped forward to help.

"The positive aspect of all of this is look at how the community has just rallied together, just like Christchurch - and they've got an overwhelming number of volunteers. The community are so affected by it. One of the volunteers said to me, this where their food supply is. It doesn't get more real than that, does it?"