12 October 2011

NZ confronts maritime oil spill emergency:

The crew of a container ship that's been stranded on a New Zealand reef for a week issued a mayday call today as the weather worsened. The crew members have since been taken off the stricken cargo vessel, RENA, as a precautionary measure. New Zealand maritime authorities estimate 350 tonnes of fuel has already spilled into the pristine Bay of Plenty from the ship, but they also say there's no imminent risk of the ship breaking up.

An oil slick streams from the Rena, a 47,000 tonne container ship grounded on a reef in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty. Photog -Getty


ELEANOR HALL: New Zealand is confronting another emergency - this time at sea.

Today the crew of a container ship that has been stranded on a reef for a week, issued a mayday call as the weather worsened.

They've now been taken off from the ship and maritime authorities say that they are worried about the vessel breaking up, and spilling oil through the pristine Bay of Plenty.

Peter Lloyd reports.

PETER LLOYD: The Liberia-flagged 'Rena' got struck on a reef 22 kilometres off New Zealand's North Island a week ago and has been foundering there ever since.

At least one fuel tank onboard the 236 metre cargo ship is ruptured.

A short time ago emergency coordinators flew over the vessel.

Bruce Anderson from Maritime New Zealand was one of those onboard making assessments about the scale of the emergency.

BRUCE ANDERSON: The vessel originally had an 11 degree list to starboard but after soon afterwards, that list had changed to 5 degrees to port. We conducted inspections to look for any defamation in the plating on the sides of the hull. We couldn't see any. The vessel looked to be in an okay shape considering that it is sitting on a reef.

PETER LLOYD: What do you mean by defamations?

BRUCE ANDERSON: Well, you think about a piece of metal when you wobble it; it gets all crinkly if you like. So there is no signs at all of that.

PETER LLOYD: Alright, what about the evacuation? Why did that happen and what does that tell you?

BRUCE ANDERSON: Well, once again, when the vessel was changing from a list to port and then moving over to a list to starboard, they wanted to make sure that this was a safe place. They didn't know where the vessel was going to end up resting so the safest thing to do was actually just to remove all the people off, get them off until the vessel settles down again into its new position.

That happened at pretty much high tide with a decent swell coming through so they just remove all the people. It is safer that way, lets the vessel settle back down into its new position and then they can bring the salvage crews back on.

PETER LLOYD: Bruce Anderson, from Maritime New Zealand.

The Rena is carrying cargo, not oil, so the magnitude of the emergency is limited. But enough oil has washed up onshore to get this sort of reaction from locals.

VOX POP: Well, look at the beach. It is a beautiful beach and it's buggered from oil. They are going to have to hold someone responsible.

PETER LLOYD: Residents using mops and buckets have been taking to the beach to clean up some of the mess. The head of Maritime New Zealand Catherine Taylor is co-ordinating that clean-up too.

CATHERINE TAYLOR: We already have teams of people on the beaches and the rocky shorelines cleaning up the oil. On the beaches we are able to scoop it up and take it away and so that is where it is easiest for us to deal with the matter.

PETER LLOYD: Maritime authority warns that there will be a significantly larger clean up ahead but the salvage expert Bruce Anderson reckons there is no imminent risk of the Rena breaking up.

BRUCE ANDERSON: At this stage the advice I've had from naval architects and from others, we are of course always concerned but that is being monitored closely. There were a team of naval architects on board. We've had two other teams of naval architects on shore all monitoring the status of the vessel and modelling to make sure how this vessel was reacting to the particular weather conditions and the particular damage that it sustained on the reef.

Those folk have been advising me that they are not seeing any signs of the vessel breaking up.

PETER LLOYD: New Zealand's Maritime Union though has suspicions about the Rena.

Joe Fleetwood is the union's general secretary.

JOE FLEETWOOD: I believe the Maritime New Zealand court state inspector went down, never inspected the deficiencies. I believe he talked to the captain and has come out and just says okay that's it so on the strength of that, he just left the vessel and said oh its okay to sail, take to sea.

So we've had problems with charts etc and the nautical charts were the main one. Now I've had Maritime New Zealand come out, no problems with them.

Minister of transport Joyce come out and said there is no problems with the charts. Now he has come out in our national paper this morning stating that oh there was a problem with the charts but it was to do with charts through China.

PETER LLOYD: It's understood inspections carried out on the Rena when it was recently in China and Fremantle identified faults and flaws. Joe Fleetwood from the Maritime Union believes the Rena is so old and in such poor condition, that it shouldn't even be at sea.

ELEANOR HALL: Peter Lloyd reporting.

Source: ABC. 11 October 2011. By Peter Lloyd

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