18 Sep 2017

Tanker to help shift fuel after pipe ruptures

9:14 pm on 18 September 2017

A naval tanker will help shift diesel from Marsden Point to other parts of the country after the only jet fuel supply pipeline to Auckland Airport was shut down, disrupting thousands of passengers.

Endeavour docks at Devonport after a four-month exercise.

The HMNZS Endeavour will be used to move diesel from Marsden Point to other parts of the country. Photo: RNZ

The pipeline was closed over the weekend after a leak was discovered, and has caused dozens of flights in and out of Auckland to be delayed or cancelled.

Up to 80,000 litres of jet fuel - or about two-tanker loads - has spilled from the pipeline at Ruakaka, about 130km north of Auckland.

Security staff at the entrance to a property near the pipeline break on Ruakaka Road.

Security staff at the entrance to a property near the pipeline break on Ruakaka Road. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins said the Defence Force would be using HMNZS Endeavour to move diesel from Marsden Point to help free up industry resources to get fuel to Auckland Airport.

It was considering options for allowing smaller commuter aircraft to refuel at Whenuapai Airforce Base and would also be providing 20 additional tanker drivers to help local operators manage their workload.

"We're looking at what we can do to make that easier in a regulatory sense, whether that's around hours of work drivers or weight restrictions for tankers.

"Safety is always paramount, but where we can have some further flexibility then that's what we will do."

Ms Collins said she had been told fuel supplies were sufficient for Auckland motorists, and aviation fuel supplies were of most concern for Auckland.

Flights disrupted

Air New Zealand said on Monday afternoon that it had cancelled four trans-Tasman flights and 14 domestic flights, but further schedule changes would be brought in order to restrict fuel usage to 30 percent of its normal usage.

It said there would be further disruptions to domestic jet, regional and trans-Tasman flights and most long haul flights departing Auckland this evening would be make refuelling stops at Pacific or Australian airports.

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The flight delays and disruptions have effected thousands of passengers, including Iasinta Pelesasa who was due to fly to home to Sydney today but was rerouted to travel through Christchurch.

"I think the flight's usually three and a half hours, but it's five and a half now.

"It is annoying, you would think they would something in place, in case things like this happened."

Another passenger, Dean Witehira, was waiting to fly to Fiji with his family and was hopeful the fuel shortage wouldn't effect his travel plans - or those of the All Blacks.

He said it was ridiculous that there was only one pipe line available for jet fuel.

"It's silly that there's only one pipeline coming into ... Auckland Airport for flights, it's ridiculous."

Aluhar Riyaz had been in New Zealand with a Sri Lankan school rugby team and said the fuel shortage had disrupted their flight home, meaning they would arrive 24 hours later than expected.

"We have scheduled all our programmes, school is reopening on the 20th and we'll be missing one day, it's frustrating."

He said he could not understand how such an issue could happen in New Zealand.

A Singapore Airlines representative said none of their flights had been disrupted by the fuel shortage, but they would continue to assess the situation daily.

An Emirates spokesperson said its daily flight from Auckland to Dubai was routed via Christchurch last night, with the flight to operate via Melbourne today.

It said passengers would not be required to get off the lane at either Christchurch or Melbourne.

'Disruption unprecedented'

Fuel industry spokesperson Andrew McNaught said the disruption was unprecedented.

He said the Auckland region had five or six days of stock incase of pipeline disruptions, but nothing to meet the current demand.

Although the pipeline supplies jet fuel, petrol and diesel, he said it was the only jet fuel supply into Auckland.

He said petrol and diesel could be easily trucked from Mount Maunganui and Marsden Point, but that was not the case for jet fuel.

Mr McNaught said that was because of the intense product quality and the extra testing that was required.

He said an option for airlines was to refuel at Wellington or Christchurch airports, or internationally.

Defence Force drivers will help bring in tankers of fuel to petrol stations.

Airline Representatives Association head Justin Tighe-Umbers said airlines were trying to ensure disruptions were minimal and they had a few options up their sleeves.

He said carriers had several options to meet jet fuel constraints in Auckland.

"Bring in more fuel from overseas on the inbound flights, they're sort of managing their own fuel supply if you like.

"The other option they've got is the longer haul operators in the Middle East and China, is to stop for a fuel stop in Australia en route, other options are some of the airlines are looking at bringing in larger aircraft so that they can carry more fuel into the country but also take more passengers in and out as well."

Mr Tighe-Umbers said cancellations were a last resort.

But Air New Zealand and Jetstar have cancelled dozens of flights so far and warn of more to come.

Fuel leak will cost $10-15m

Refining NZ, who owns the pipeline, said the fuel leak would cost it $10 to $15 million in lost revenue.

It said its engineering team was preparing to replace the ruptured section and, all going well, it would be up and running from Sunday to Tuesday.

After recertification the earliest possible time it could reach the airport is Wednesday next week.

Refining NZ staff have been working round the clock to clean up the leak and it said it had stopped the oil going into waterways and moved contaminated soil to the Marsden Point refinery.

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