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Debris Litters New Zealand Beach After Stricken Rena Splits

The Container Ship Rena Spits in Two
The container ship Rena is seen in two pieces after overnight bad weather pounded the vessel near Tauranga, New Zealand on Sunday. Source: Maritime New Zealand via Getty Images

Shipping cargo and debris are littering a beach on New Zealand’s North Island after Rena, the 236-meter (774 foot) container vessel stranded on a reef since October, yesterday split into two in rough seas.

Officials were forced to close Waihi Beach on New Zealand’s northeastern coast after containers washed ashore and some looting was reported, New Zealand police said in a statement. Teams are removing debris from the beach including timber, milk powder and plastic material, Maritime New Zealand said in a statement on its website.

Aerial observations showed there was little change overnight to the Rena’s position on the Astrolabe reef, the agency said. Both sections were about 30 meters apart, with the rear separating after stormy weather, Maritime New Zealand said yesterday. The ship ran aground on Oct. 5 near Tauranga, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Auckland.

“There is inevitably going to be a lot of mess and disturbance for the next few days while this is cleaned up and we would like people to use common sense and stay well away from the debris,” National On Scene Commander Alex van Wijngaarden said in the statement.

Twelve containers have come ashore, while defense force personnel are using mine-clearing equipment to check for debris in harbor channels, Maritime New Zealand said. Workers tagged 21 containers with buoys this morning and plan to collect them when weather conditions improve.

Worst Oil Spill

As much as 350 metric tons of oil may have leaked from the vessel since the grounding, according to Maritime New Zealand. That makes it the worst oil spill the nation has experienced.

While there were no signs of “significant” spills from the vessel over the weekend, response teams were prepared if any releases should occur, according to the statement. Three little blue penguins were discovered to be oiled after the break-up.

“The ship is badly damaged with the severe movement breaking off many of the hatch covers and releasing containers,” Maritime N.Z. salvage manager David Billington said yesterday. While there hasn’t been a “significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely.”

The Liberian-flagged ship, owned by Athens-based Costamare Shipping Co., was carrying 2,171 containers and about 1,700 metric tons of fuel oil when it struck the reef, according to Maritime New Zealand. The Rena was hit by seven-meter waves in the past two days and a three-nautical-mile exclusion zone around the vessel remains in place because of the risk caused by drifting containers.

Hazardous Cargo

The cargo included four containers of ferrosilicon, a solid substance that can be hazardous when in contact with water and can emit hydrogen, the agency said.

The Rena’s master and the second officer in charge of the navigational watch have been charged under New Zealand’s Maritime Act for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, the maritime agency said in a statement on Oct. 13.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of NZ$10,000 ($7,800) or 12 months’ imprisonment, it said at the time.

A tanker moored alongside the Rena took off 1,000 tons of oil since the grounding after leaking fuel had blackened beaches in the area and killed seabirds.

Separately, a phosphate ship that broke its moorings in rough seas at Christmas Island, more than 800 kilometers off Australia’s northwestern coast, at the weekend is breaking up, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The Panamanian-registered MV Tycoon, which had been loading phosphate, was pushed against a sea wall by heavy swell and 15 crew were taken off the ship by navy personnel, according to the report.

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