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New Zealand Salvage Team Start Taking Oil From Stricken Ship

New Zealand Salvage Team Start Taking Oil From Stranded Ship
In this handout provided by Maritime New Zealand, workers construct oil booms at Maketu Estuary, in Tauranga, New Zealand. Photographer: New Zealand Defence Force via Getty Images

Salvage teams are emptying oil from a stranded container ship off the northeastern coast of New Zealand as the company leasing the vessel told the government it would help pay for the response operation.

About 64 metric tons of oil has been pumped from the vessel since yesterday, Transport Minister Steven Joyce told reporters in Wellington today. While the oil spill’s cost has reached around NZ$4 million ($3.2 million), it was possible that it could eventually be in the tens of millions, he said.

The minister met with Mediterranean Shipping Co. SA, which leases the ship from Costamare Shipping Co., in Wellington today. The company’s management committed to providing both cash and non-cash assistance, Joyce said.

Rena, the Athens-based Costamare’s vessel, remains “in a precarious state” and more oil could wash up on beaches, Prime Minister John Key told reporters at the same briefing. Cracks appeared in the hull last week, raising concern the ship may break apart more than a week after it ran aground near Tauranga, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Auckland.

The salvage team successfully attached four platforms to the side of the vessel and set up equipment on Oct. 15, according to Maritime New Zealand. The tanker Awanuia was receiving oil pumped from the stricken ship.

“This is a hugely challenging and risky operation even in full daylight,” the agency said today.

Ship’s Cargo

The Rena was carrying 1,368 containers and about 1,700 metric tons of fuel oil, according to maritime officials. As many as 350 tons of oil may have spilled from the vessel.

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 the agency.

As many as 88 containers have fallen from the ship and almost half of them are empty, it said on Oct. 15.

A part of the beach between Mount Maunganui and Moturiki Island has been re-opened to public after as much as 618 tons of oiled sandy waste was collected, the agency said yesterday.

“We’ve had beach clean-up teams there getting rid of the oil” and environmental assessment teams digging down into the sand to check for any buried oil, National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn said in a statement. “They’ve dug a number of trenches down into the sand and established that it’s clear.”

As many as 1,290 birds have been found dead and there are a total of 207 oiled birds being cared for at a wildlife facility.

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 Oct. 13.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of NZ$10,000 ($7,900) or 12 months’ imprisonment, it said.

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