Questions have been raised over Taranaki's ability to deal with a major maritime disaster in the wake of a boat becoming badly damaged off the coast of New Plymouth.
The Singaporean cargo ship Lake Triview dragged its anchor in heavy seas two weeks ago and suffered extensive damage to its hull when it hit the Waiwhakaiho reef.
The incident has been described as having the potential to have been a Rena-like disaster.
Though no fuel or cargo was lost in the incident, environmentalists, ocean users and politicians say it was a lucky escape.
Taranaki Regional Council spokesman Fred McLay said the recent incident could have had serious environmental reper-cussions.
"In this instance we were lucky that the vessel didn't sustain major damage which could have resulted in heavy fuel oil being spilled," McLay said.
The TRC is responsible for incidents within 22km of shore and would have been tasked with the cleanup had there been a spill.
McLay said there was a three-tier response plan and trained personnel and response equipment were available in Taranaki 24/7.
Under the plan, Taranaki's on-scene commanders are responsible for an oil spill response within the region's coastal marine environment.
"The council has a vessel and contracts with operators of larger vessels to deploy cleanup equipment offshore," McLay said.
When a spill exceeded the region's capabilities, Maritime NZ were given control of response.
But Labour MP Andrew Little said he was concerned about the speed of a response and suggested a vessel be docked at Port Taranaki fully equipped and ready in an instant.
Little said that given there were numerous offshore rigs in the region and tankers coming in and out of the port on a regular basis, Taranaki needed a solid response capability.
"We need to be able to respond to rigs and ships in the case of a spill," he said. "We need a ready to go vessel."
Little said the near-miss raised serious questions about the region's ability to respond.
"We have the highest risk with all the oil and gas rigs and tankers," he said. "There needs to be a team and fully equipped vessel ready to go."
Mariner Lance Girling-Butcher said he couldn't understand how, in this day and age, a ship managed to end up on a reef only 1km off the coast.
"You would expect alarms to be sounding, these ships all have the latest GPS equipment," he said.
"It's basically the Rena all over. We are just lucky it didn't put holes in the fuel tank or cargo holds."
Girling-Butcher said you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see the potential for disaster.
"It's so close to popular surf breaks and swimming beaches."
New Plymouth surfer Allen Pidwell said it was a major concern that such a large ship managed to hit a reef so close to shore.
"There would have been oil and cargo on the beach before you knew it."
Maritime New Zealand are investigating the incident and have charged the ship's master under the Maritime Transport Act, spokesman Steve Rendle said.
Rendle said the ship was damaged on the Saturday night, then headed back to sea, re-anchored and berthed at Port Taranaki the following Tuesday.
The port was closed to shipping that weekend and ships evacuated because of the stormy conditions.
It's understood the damage includes about 14 holes, one of which was big enough for divers to fit through, and had dented fuel tanks.
Lake Triview is now detained at the port on safety grounds where it is being monitored by Maritime NZ until it is able to be sailed safely, Rendle said.
The Taranaki Daily News understands this could take up to three months.
Rendle said he would not comment on the potential environmental affects while an investigation and court proceedings were in progress.
"What I will say is we take such incidents extremely seriously, hence the charges being laid," Rendle said.
Taranaki Daily News