Oil slick captain 'cut corner'
Tauranga - The vessel at the centre of New
Zealand's worst maritime pollution disaster ran aground because the captain was
taking a short cut, the New Zealand government alleged on Saturday.
The accusation was made as salvage crews
prepared to pump oil from the stricken cargo ship Rena, which ran aground last
Anger is mounting in New Zealand over the
fuel leak, with popular beaches on the North Island's east coast coated in oil
and off-limits to the public, and more than 1 000 dead and oil-soaked birds
There were indications on Saturday the leak
has been stemmed, but the ship's agent has said the six Filipino crewmembers
who are still in New Zealand are being kept at an undisclosed location amid
fears for their safety.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said it appeared
the Rena hit a reef off the resort area of Tauranga when the vessel was trying
to get to port quickly.
"I can't confirm that. But it appears
from the charts that they were in a rush to get to port, went full bore, cut
the corner, and hit the reef," Smith told TV3's The Nation programme.
The ship's captain and the officer on
navigational watch when the ship ran aground have already been charged with
operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of one
year in jail.
Meanwhile, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ)
on-scene commander Nick Quinn said the Rena was now stable and the stern had
settled on a reef.
"There are no reports of fresh oil
leaking," he said as observation flights continued to monitor the situation
from the air.
Quinn said salvage teams were on board the
cargo vessel "working in very difficult and potentially hazardous
conditions" to install fuel pumping equipment.
They hoped to begin discharging oil into a
waiting tanker by the end of the day.
It is believed there are still 1 346 tonnes
of oil on board the Rena while about 330 tonnes have leaked into the ocean in
an ecologically sensitive area teeming with wildlife, with 88 containers also
falling into the water.
Matthew Watson from the salvage company
Svitzer told Radio New Zealand a team on a fuel pumping barge half a nautical
mile away had been testing equipment to remove the remaining oil.
Their main difficulty was finding a way to
heat the fuel, which has cooled to a dense consistency and the ship's engines
no long have the power to warm it, he said.
On shore, nearly 1,000 dead birds have been
recovered and a wildlife facility is caring for 110 injured birds.
Compared with some of the world's worst oil
spills, the disaster remains small - the Exxon Valdez which ran aground in 1989
in Alaska dumped 37 000 tonnes of oil into Prince William Sound.
But it is significant because of the pristine
nature of New Zealand's Bay of Plenty, which contains marine reserves and
wetlands and teems with wildlife including whales, dolphins, penguins, seals
and rare sea birds.