New Zealand's Worst Maritime Disaster: Yet Another Oil Spill

by Tina Gerhardt

CommonDreams
October 12, 2011

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/10/12-1

HONOLULU - One week after the container ship Rena struck and
got stuck on Astrolabe Reef, leading to massive oil leaks,
New Zealand has declared the oil spill its worst maritime
disaster.

n the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, area
residents and environmentalists are concerned that the spill
and its effects on the health of those who live, work and
vacation in the area will be downplayed. (Photo: Maritime
New Zealand) The ship flying under a Liberian flag is
located about 12 nautical miles off the coast of New
Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty.

The amount of oil gushing forth has increased over the past
week. Tar and oil balls, some the size of platters, have
washed ashore along 16 miles of the North Island's beaches.
It is estimated that 1300 to 1700 tons of oil remain on the
ship. The first priority is to pump the remaining oil off
the ship.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) has urged the public to stay off
local beaches. About 20 teams of trained persons totalling
250 persons are on the beaches, cleaning up the oil. And MNZ
is recruiting and training volunteers for beach clean up.

According to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who
visited the area on Wednesday, another concern is that the
vessel might break splinter apart. Fracture lines have been
spotted on the ship. And worries exist that the stern -
which remains firmly lodged, while the remainder of the ship
has been moving with the waves - might break off.

Storms are currently hindering attempts to unload the ship,
which is another top priority, since the ship was carrying
approximately 1368 containers, an estimated 11 of which are
reported to contain hazardous substances. Four containers
include ferrosilicon, which can pose a fire hazard, if it
comes into contact with water.

The ship is lodged on the reef at an angle that varies from
6-18 degrees. As a result of the angle and the storm's winds
and waves, about 70 containers have already tumbled into the
waters.

The ship's crew of 25 has not been harmed and has been
evacuated off the ship.

The ship's master, whose name is being withheld, has been
arrested and was charged Wednesday "for operating a vessel
in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk."

Shipping vessels have been re-routed, so as not to come into
contact with the oil and containers in the area.

Environmental conservationists are already on hand at the
Wildlife Response Center washing oil-covered blue penguins
and seabirds, including shags, petrels and dottrels, at a
rehabilitation center. They have about 41 birds in their
care. Thus far, 200 dead birds have been collected.

Seals are being trapped in area waters to check them for
oil. Currently, five seals are at the response center.

In the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, area
residents and environmentalists are concerned that the spill
and its effects on the health of those who live, work and
vacation in the area will be downplayed.

Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner Steve Abel said that the
"Rena disaster is ... a terrible reminder of the devastating
impact that oil spills can have on our wildlife, coastlines
and livelihoods."

Greenpeace has called on the government to reconsider its
plans for deep sea exploratory drilling off the shore of the
North and South Islands.

[Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist who covers
climate change, international negotiations and energy
policy. Her work has appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet,
Grist, Environment News Service, In These Times, The
Progressive and The Nation, on GRIT tv, WBAI and the
National Radio Project.]

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