9 Jan 2012

Rena containers wash up at Bay of Plenty beach

10:13 pm on 9 January 2012

Twelve containers from the broken cargo ship Rena have washed ashore between Waihi Beach and Matakana Island in western Bay of Plenty. There are also reports of oil at or near beaches, which Maritime New Zealand is investigating on Monday.

The Rena has been grounded on Astrolabe reef, off Tauranga, since 5 October last year. Maritime New Zealand says the state of the ship, which is now in two pieces with the stern section up to 30 metres away from the bow, has not changed significantly on Monday.

Environmental clean-up company Braemar Howells has revised the estimate of the number of containers spilled during severe weather at the weekend to about 150 instead of up to 300.

Debris from smashed containers washing ashore includes timber, paper, milk powder, plastic and polypropylene ropes. The company says it hopes to stop the spread of containers and debris by next week.

It says trajectory modelling shows more debris may come ashore between Waihi Beach and Mercury Bay, but attempts are being made to stop it spreading further than Bowentown.

Waihi Beach reopened to the public on Monday evening, but people are being cautioned against going into the water, and access around containers and debris will be restricted if necessary.

Meanwhile, Maritime New Zealand says salvors landed on the front section of the Rena on Sunday, but the broken-off stern section was deemed too unsafe to board.

A vessel equipped with sonar is searching for containers and the priority is to keep shipping lanes clear. The Navy will help enforce an exclusion zone around the Rena.

Reports of oil washing ashore

Maritime New Zealand says there have been reports of oil washing ashore at Matakana Island.

The authority's national on-scene commander says a flight over the Rena on Monday showed a 3km slick stretching from the ship.

Alex van Winjgaarden says modelling shows the oil may come ashore along the centre of Matakana Island.

He says there have also been reports of oil floating around the Waihi Beach area and a taskforce is ready to clean it up if required.

Four penguins have been found covered in oil on Monday.

Warning not to touch containers

Maritime New Zealand says people should contact the authorities if they discover any containers and leave it to them to deal with the debris safely as they could be dangerous and may contain toxic material.

Police say they have had reports of people trying to steal items from the containers, such as milk powder.

They say the contents belong to the owners or insurers and taking them is theft.

Stern likely to sink - minister

Environment Minister Nick Smith says Rena's stern is likely to sink. He says the water around the ship was clouded with milk powder on Sunday and the worry is that it will wash ashore in large quantities.

However, Dr Smith says the environmental risks are now a fraction of what they were when the ship ran aground, because most of the fuel oil on board has been removed.

Matthew Watson from Svitzer Salvage told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme about 21 containers with hazardous substances were not thought to be aboard the wreck any more and had most likely sunk.

The Rena is owned by the Costamare Shipping Company, of Greece, and was chartered by the Mediterranean Shipping Company which gave a donation of $1 million toward the clean-up in October.