16 Oct 2011

Salvage workers working overnight to pump oil off stricken ship

11:01 pm on 16 October 2011

Salvage workers are pumping oil off the stricken container ship Rena and will continue working overnight on Sunday.

The ship has been wedged on Astrolabe Reef since 5 October and about 350 tonnes of fuel has spilled so far, polluting the ocean and nearby Bay of Plenty beaches.

For the last two days salvage crews have been in a race against time, preparing to pump the remaining 1300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil off the Rena before it breaks up.


A spokesperson for Svitzer Salvage, Matthew Watson, says the plan is to have as few people as possible working to reduce the number at risk.

Mr Watson says changing weather conditions, coupled with the tilt of the fractured ship and oil-splashed surfaces, make it a risky operation.

Maritime New Zealand's salvage co-ordinator Bruce Anderson says he received a plan from the salvage crew that will allow them to stay on the vessel overnight and all of Monday.

"The safety of the salvage team is paramount and I had to be satisfied that there is a workable plan to rescue the people from the vessel if something goes wrong", he said.

"I have now seen the plan which states the steps they will take to ensure the safety on board overnight to complete preparations and then start pumping fuel to the tanker Awanuia that is lying off the Rena's stern."

Technical difficulties, including a higher than expected presence of dangerous gases, delayed pumping for much of the day, but it began on Sunday evening.

Mr Anderson describes the operation as hugely challenging and risky even in full daylight and says the salvors are incredibly brave and dedicated.

He said while the weather has been good for the past few days, it is expected to deteriorate late on Monday which may impact on the operation.

Part of beach reopened

The main beach at Mount Maunganui has been reopened to Leisure Island but the rest of the beach remains closed while water sampling is done to detect any oil buried in the sand.

Maritime New Zealand has acknowledged another oil release is likely at some stage because of Rena's position on the Astrolabe Reef.

There have been 1250 dead birds recovered so far.

A total of 181 birds, including 143 little blue penguins, have been taken to the Oiled Wildlife Recovery Centre.

Maritime New Zealand says anyone who discovers wildlife affected by the oil spill should contact the Wildlife Response Team.

Maritime New Zealand says close to 5000 people have now volunteered to help clean up oil which has washed up from the Rena.

A volunteer coordinator, Bruce Fraser, said on Sunday that of those, more than 1500 had received training in how to remove the toxic material safely.