Rena salvage: Preparations to pump oil
More than 3000 people have now volunteered to help clean up oil-soaked Bay of Plenty beaches.
The stricken Rena is now settled "comfortably" on Astrolabe reef, but is only just holding itself together because of its position, a Marine expert says.
The stricken vessel has moved to rest on the reef off Tauranga and calmer weather had today helped salvage operations, meaning oil could soon be pumped out from the ship.
Andrew Berry, of the Marine Pollution Response Service, told a packed meeting at Papamoa College this afternoon that it appeared the cracks on either side of the ship had now joined.
All that was holding the Rena together was its position on the reef and some internal structure, Berry said.
It comes as the Philippine embassy released a statement this afternoon expressing its sadness over the Rena's grounding and the unfolding oil spill that occurred in the days that have followed.
Phillipine Minister and Consul Giovanni Palec arrived in Tauranga on Wednesday and is still in the city.
He has met with the crew, who told him they have been treated kindly and fairly by New Zealand authorities.
The 19 Filipino crew members left the country after they were interviewed and had their statements taken.
"The Filipino people fully understand what the people of New Zealand, especially those in the Tauranga communities are going through right now," the statement said.
The embassy said reports of the Filipino community being harassed in Tauranga were "not reflective of the general sentiments of the public in Tauranga".
Calmer weather off Tauranga has today raised hopes that oil can soon be pumped out from the Rena, with Prime Minister John Key today saying salvage teams have taken a "positive step" forward.
Teams worked throughout the night, building platforms to attach to the cargo ship to help recovery operations.
The ship was now sitting on the reef, and divers were in the water surveying the damage.
The back half of the ship had previously been sitting in about 50 meters of water, a Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) spokesperson said.
"I think it is a very positive step forward, but I wouldn't underestimate all the challenges," Key said. "The weather is working well for us at the moment, swells are reducing."
Environment Minister Nick Smith said removing the oil remained the Government's No 1 priority and hoped it would take place in the coming days.
"When we've got the ship's machinery down that means that the normal heating of this oil makes it the viscosity of Marmite and that makes it hard work to be able to pump off board.
"Specialist pumps have been brought from Sydney to enable that specialist work to take place."
However, oil would not be pumped from the Rena during today's salvage operation, said MNZ's Bruce Anderson.
Salvage teams worked throughout the night to build platforms intended to attach to the Rena, which is currently leaning by over 22 degrees, to help with fuel recovery operations.
He said the team was likely to spend today setting equipment up and may gain access to the tanks in order to lower their pumps into them.
"We shouldn't anticipate any pumping of oil today."
The operation was "complexity on top of complexity".
The first step would be trying to get access to the tanks by unbolting hatch covers. The second option would be to cut into it.
Key said the Government was still considering compensation for people losing money due to the oil spill, but a decision has yet to be made.
"I'm not ruling it in, but I'm clearly not ruling it out. We just need to asses what the full impact on them is and what capacity they have to mitigate any losses."
The local Chamber of Commerce had contacted Christchurch to ask what plans worked and how effective they were," he said.
"In the fullness of time we'll be working through those requests and looking through the normal process."
WHAKATANE BRACES FOR OIL
Clean-up teams are being prepared in Whakatane for oil washing up there from the stricken ship Rena.
More than 350 tonnes of oil has spilled into the ocean since the 47,000-tonne cargo ship grounded on the Astrolabe Reef off the Tauranga coast on October 5.
The oil has coated beaches and killed more than 1000 birds.
Maritime NZ (MNZ) director Catherine Taylor said less oil had come ashore overnight "though we do know it is moving eastwards and there are reports of it moving beyond Maketu for the first time."
There had been reports of oil on Whale Island but this had not been confirmed.
Mt Maunganui beach was cleaner this morning however, after it and other western Bay of Plenty beaches suffered a large tide of oil and flotsam yesterday.
The captain and second officer of the Rena were no longer involved in the salvage operation, Anderson said.
"One of the key things about those individuals - they were on board in the early stages - is that they know the ship's systems. They became quite important in assisting salvors. They were doing a great job but they won't be going on the vessel in this state," he said.
Salvors would remain on the boat for as long as was safe, with aircraft on standby to remove them if necessary.
The Rena's stern had settled on the reef which was "good news" and a dive survey would be carried out this morning to see if it was sitting on a platform or a pinnacle of Astrolabe Reef.
The incident control centre, inside a disused supermarket in Tauranga, was opened to media for the first time this morning.
Two hundred and twenty people were working in separate silos inside. Whiteboards, laptops and telephones littered the large open-plan area with a constant hum of noise from workers.
The centre was manned from 6am til 9.30pm.
VOLUNTEERS START WORK
The first army of white-suited volunteers was skimming oil-soaked sand from Bay of Plenty beaches today.
More than 2500 volunteers have registered with the clean-up operation, with about 100 people showing up at the Omanu Beach Surf Club this morning ready to get their gloved-hands dirty.
The volunteers received a briefing, which included tips such as not overloading the garbage bags, and suited-up before heading into the field in unimogs.
MNZ has estimated about 10,000 tonnes of oily sand would be scooped up during the clean up. So far they have collected about 95 tonnes.
Containers drifting in the sea were being moved towards Motiti Island.
Of 88 containers reported missing from the ship, 35 have been identified and 14 have been recovered.
The salvage company, Svitzer, was responsible for collecting the containers in the water.
A spokesman said it intended to take some of them towards Motiti Island, about 7km from the ship, to later collect them.
Other containers would be moved to other locations, which have yet to be identified, he said.
"Our priority at the moment is to stop them from drifting in the open sea.
"We have a plan in place with vessels to find where they are and intercept them.
"Motiti Island was identified as a logical place where some of the containers would be marshalled."
He said once recovered from the water, the containers would be sent to another company, which will decide to either clean or scrap them.
Environment Minister Nick Smith arrived back in Tauranga this morning, flying over the stricken ship and stretch of beach where oil continued to wash ashore.
Smith called the week the worst "for any environment minister."
"We pride ourselves on our clean green environment and the last thing we want to see is our beaches covered in oil."
Smith said he had confidence in the response to the disaster.
The team was doing everything it could to minimise the damage to the environment.
"But there are no perfect answers here."
He would be briefed on the current plans this morning.
"The emphasis today is going to be very much on whether it's going to be possible to recover the remaining 1300 tonnes of oil from the Rena."
Smith said the damage looked worse from the ground than the air.
APOLOGY 'FALLS SHORT'
Costamare Shipping Company managing director Diamantis Manos, whose company manages the Rena, yesterday apologised by video to Tauranga residents and New Zealanders for the "disastrous event".
Prime Minister John Key said he was pleased Rena's owners had apologised - but it wasn't enough.
"We are obviously pleased that they have apologised, that is important. But at the end I want answers as to why the ship crashed on the reef. This is a significant issue for New Zealand."
Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby also felt the apology fell short, by about the length of an international plane flight.
"I'd prefer to see the owner come to New Zealand, come to our city and then apologise - to stand up in front of us," he said. "That's my immediate reaction - that would be the right and proper thing to do."
Rena's navigation officer was freed on bail after appearing in the Tauranga District Court yesterday.
Like his captain, he faced charges under section 65 of the Maritime Act for "operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk".
Both were to reappear in court on October 19.
Meanwhile, Port of Tauranga said it was running as normal again this morning, after a temporary shutdown overnight.
The port delayed marine operations between 9pm and 6am to recover containers and debris from the Rena that has been found in its shipping channels.
- PALOMA MIGONE, MICHELLE COOKE and KIRSTY JOHNSTON