New Zealand salvage teams are preparing to pump fuel from a container ship stranded off the nation’s northeast coast as leaked oil from the damaged vessel spreads to 60 kilometers (37 miles) of coastline.
Officials are attaching four platforms to the port side of the stricken vessel to assist fuel recovery, according to a Maritime New Zealand statement. No fuel is likely to be pumped from the ship today, the statement said, as thousands of volunteers seek to clean up the region’s beaches.
Calmer seas allowed inspectors to board the vessel yesterday, after strong winds and high waves forced them ashore Oct. 11. Cracks have appeared in the hull of Athens-based Costamare Shipping Co.’s stricken Rena, raising concern the ship may split, nine days after it ran aground in the Bay of Plenty near Tauranga, 100 miles southeast of Auckland.
“We have a long road ahead of us, so must ensure we maintain our maximum capability and capacity to respond,” National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn said in a statement earlier today.
The vessel has probably spilled as much as 350 tons of oil, and 88 containers are now in the water, with some contents reaching the shoreline, according to Maritime New Zealand. There was no evidence of fresh oil leaks today, the agency said.
The Rena was carrying 1,368 containers and about 1,700 metric tons of fuel oil, according to maritime officials. The ship is owned by Daina Shipping Company, a unit of Costamare.
About 220 metric tons of waste has been cleared from beaches, Maritime New Zealand said. Oil has washed up on about 60 kilometers of coastline, ranging in severity, and at least 1,000 dead birds have been found.
More than 3,000 people have registered to help clean Tauranga beaches, according to the statement. Teams are also being trained and positioned in areas where oil is expected to wash up within days.
“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,” Diamantis Manos, managing director of Costamare Shipping, said in an e-mailed video statement yesterday.
“It is our ship that went aground and we apologize without hesitation for what has happened,” Manos said, adding that the company will cooperate with all investigations.
The ship’s master and the second officer in charge of the navigational watch have both been charged under the Maritime Act for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, the maritime agency said in a statement.
New Zealand officials interviewed crew on duty during the accident and seized recording and navigation equipment to help determine how the vessel settled on the Astrolabe Reef, according to a statement on the Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s website. The inquiry’s final analysis may not be ready until the middle of 2012, the statement said.
The cost of the disaster may exceed the maximum under the shipowner’s insurance, Prime Minister John Key told Radio New Zealand yesterday. The government will pick up any extra costs and will explore legal options to get more compensation, he said.
The cargo on the 32-year-old, Liberian-flagged Rena includes four containers of ferrosilicon, a solid substance that can be hazardous when in contact with water and can emit hydrogen, according to Maritime New Zealand.