Crews are racing to extract oil from a leaking ship stranded on a reef off
, ahead of gale-force
winds and swells forecast for Monday. New Zealand
The MV Rena container ship, has already leaked 20-30 tonnes of oil since it struck the Astrolabe Reef, in the
on Wednesday. Bay of Plenty
Officials fear that, if the ship breaks up in the bad weather, 1,700 tonnes of fuel could be released into the area.
is one of the country's top tourist attractions. Bay of Plenty
Oil leaking from the Liberian-flagged Rena, stranded 12 nautical miles off the coast, has created a 5-km (3-mile) slick.
"The weather is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so we are working around the clock to remove the oil," the agency said.
The operation is expected to last at least two days, but the bad weather could force it to delay.
Officials are concerned that the ship could break up, leaking huge amounts of oil
Salvage experts are on board the Rena and have specialist equipment to warn them if the ship is in danger of breaking up, it added.
"The top priority is to first remove the oil, then lighten the vessel by removing the containers, and finally, move the ship off the reef," the MNZ said.
2 barges have been scooping up the oil that has spilled into the sea, but the MNZ said it expected to see more oil in the water in the coming days and washing up on nearby beaches around Wednesday or Thursday.
About 200 people are working on the response, and
defence force has about 300 people on hand to clean beaches if necessary,
reports AP news agency. New Zealand
The owners of the ship, Greece-based Costamare Inc, have not given an explanation for the grounding, but said they were "cooperating fully with local authorities" to minimise any damage.
Prime Minister John Key, who flew over the scene in a helicopter on Sunday, said two inquiries to determine why the ship had collided with the Astrolabe Reef were already under way.
"People know about the reef, and for it to plough into it for no particular reason - at night, in calm waters - tells you something terrible has gone wrong and we need to understand why," he told Radio New Zealand.
Experts say the arrival of stormy weather could lead to the break-up of the Rena, as one end is stuck on the reef while the other end floats free.
"Once you increase the swell, the upsurge, the lift on the aft end of the ship will increase, and the chances of her separating start to rise," explained Marine Risk Assessor John Riding.
The department of conservation has established two wildlife rescue centres and dispatched teams to search the beaches and islands in the area for affected animals and birds.
The maritime authorities have said a total of 8 oiled birds, including little blue penguins, had been recovered and taken to a wildlife facility in Te Maunga.
"From tip to toe, they are covered in black sticky gunk, matting up all their feathers right down to the skin," said Brett Gartrell of
's Wildlife Health
Centre. "They have ingested it and started to get anaemic, which is part
of the toxic effect of the oil." New Zealand
MNZ has established a one-kilometre maritime exclusion zone around the ship and warns that the fuel oil is toxic.
The animal welfare group
Forest and Bird said the timing of the accident, in the
middle of the breeding season for birds, was "disastrous".
Greenpeace said it could also affect whales and dolphins calving in the area, as well as other species.
Source: BBC. 9 October 2011