News24

New Zealand fears oil as ship sinks

2012-01-10 12:31

Wellington - New Zealand authorities began preparing for a fresh oil spill on the east coast on Tuesday as the container ship Rena, which ran aground on a reef three months ago, began to sink.

"The Rena is quite clearly in its death throes," Environment Minister Nick Smith said in Tauranga, a port on the North Island. "The government's priority is to minimise the environmental damage as it sinks and breaks up."

Nine hours after the stern section of the 47 000-ton ship began sinking, the Maritime New Zealand agency said three-quarters of it was submerged but it remained stable on a reef 22km offshore.

An oil response team put a boom on the coast at Maketu, 50km south of Tauranga, and the agency said extra teams would be on standby until Wednesday to deal with any reports of fresh oil on the beaches.

Wildlife patrols were also being readied to search the beaches for oil-contaminated seabirds and penguins.

More than 2 000 seabirds died in the Rena's first oil spill of about 360 tons after it ran aground on October 5, but Smith said any new leakage would be in "single-digit number of tons".

The stern, which broke away from the front of the ship in heavy seas at the weekend, still contains about 400 containers of goods.

About 150 were reportedly lost overboard when the ship split in two, and broken containers and their assorted cargo of timber, meat, packets of milk powder, skins and furniture have been washing up on beaches and nearby islands.

Earlier, Maritime New Zealand, which is supervising salvage of the 47 000-ton Liberian-registered Rena, warned that containers and debris from the ship could wash up on a beach at the holiday resort of Whitianga, 160km away.