'Gumboot' sized oil patties wash ashore from Rena

Last updated 17:31 19/10/2011
Mike Scott

Protesters against deep-sea oil drilling marched through Tauranga. They believe the Rena disaster is an example of what could happen if oil drilling went ahead in New Zealand waters.

Rena Bruce Goff
Maritime New Zealand Zoom
Oil responder Bruce Goff with the Terminator oil skimmer ready for deployment. on Sunday, October 23.
Rena
Maritime New Zealand Zoom
Aerial shot taken in the morning of Sunday, October 23, showing a sheen of oil that had leaked from the Rena overnight.

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"Gumboot" sized oil patties have washed-up along precious parts of the Bay of Plenty coast today while debris from Rena's containers have ended-up as far as the East Cape, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said.

The cargo ship, which has spilt oil and containers in an environmental disaster, remains stuck on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga after running aground two weeks ago.

Maketu, where "gumboot" sized oil patties have washed ashore today, has an estuary which is home to colonies of threatened New Zealand dotterel and other wildlife.

"We think that oil is probably relocating from the rocky shorelines," MNZ's national on-scene commander Ian Niblock said.

Meanwhile residents of Waihau Bay on the East Cape have found oil-covered container debris on their beach today, including pieces of polystyrene, timber and bags of milk powder.

A 'concerned resident' who lives near the beach, some 250km east of Tauranga by road, said she came across the debris while out for her morning walk.

"It's not a good look," she said of the beach that acted as the backdrop for the hit New Zealand movie Boy.

There was also talk of a container washing up at Te Araroa, at the northeast end of the cape, she said.

A Maritime New Zealand spokesman said observational teams had been sent to the Waihau Bay.

They had found oil-coated polystyrene blocks from some of the 88 containers that had toppled off Rena had washed ashore.

It was being cleared away.

Papamoa and Mt Maunganui have also had further oil wash ashore today

No oil has been pumped from the stricken-ship today and it wasn't expected that any would be removed before tomorrow as strong winds and rough seas continue to hamper salvage efforts.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said it was a "real waiting game".

The crack on the starboard side of the ship hasn't changed in the last couple of days. The ship was still in a precarious position.

"You can't confirm at all that it won't literally break up at some point... we're hoping it stays together until such time when oil pumping can start again - hopefully tomorrow."

Joyce said there was a lot of work ahead "in terms of oil response".

Some navy vessels that had travelled to Tauranga from Auckland had since returned but were on standby and could be back in Tauranga within six hours, salvage master Drew Shannon said.

RENA CAPTAIN IN COURT

The Rena's captain and navigational officer have appeared in court and been remanded on bail until November 2.

Tauranga District Court was packed with media for the hearing, where the pair faced charges under section 65 of the Maritime Act for "operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk".

Crown lawyers had advised more charges were likely to be filed under the Resource Management Act before their next appearance, the captain's lawyer Paul Mabey QC said.

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A lawyer for New Zealand's major media organisations, Keith Catran, spent much of the hearing arguing against further name suppression.

The real grief in the case came from the community and they were entitled to know the men's identities, he said.

"It's not a case when publication of the names can affect their families or their communities," he said.

However Judge Robert Wolff sided with Mabey and the navigational officer's counsel Mark Beech, who were concerned for the men's safety.

Publication of their names and photos did not add anything to reports, Wolff said, and would only underline the risk.

While the hearing continued, the men sat attentively in the witness stand, both wearing navy blue.

OIL DRILLING PROTEST

The court appearance came as protesters marched through Tauranga against offshore oil drilling.

The group, led by Whanau A Apanui, was estimated to be around 150 strong.

"The cost is too great for our country to bear," Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei told protesters.

Around 25 police were keeping a close eye on the group, who were waving placards with messages such as: "Do you like uranium with your cup of tea?".

Early reports that the Rena was carrying uranium have been discounted.

Protesters said they were also supporting hapu member Elvis Heremaia Teddy, 44, from Opotiki, who faced charges in the Tauranga court today in relation to protest action against oil giant Petrobas.

INSURANCE COVER CONFIRMED

The owners of the Rena, Costamare, said today insurers The Swedish Club would meet their obligations in full, including pollution liabilities.

''The owner's obligations in this situation will be met in full. Both Costamare and the Swedish Club deeply regret that this accident has occurred and that environmental damage has resulted,'' the marine insurer said.

NO PUMPING TODAY

Pumping has been put indefinitely on hold as adverse weather conditions continue to batter the damaged Rena.  

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) salvage manager Andrew Berry said salvors were on board the ship but were unable to connect the fuel hose to the bunker vessel Awanuia due to large swells.

"You can hear the movement inside the ship and see the cracks moving but that should settle down as the swell dies down," Berry said.

However, there was no timeframe set for pumping to resume.

While Rena remained hard on the reef, its stern section had developed more of a "kink" overnight.

"The aft section has moved further to the left but not to the point where the salvors can't get aboard," Berry said.

The booster pump was ready to go as soon as conditions were suitable.

Divers were also working on the starboard tank today.

Berry said the cracks in the ship were not reparable.

"Clearly the ship is not in the same condition as it was two days ago, or five days ago."

There was still enough stability for the salvors to be on board, Berry said.

There had also been no new reports overnight of oil on beaches, MNZ National On Scene Commander Ian Niblock said.

Teams would today clean up oil that came ashore late yesterday along a 3km stretch of beach near Harrison's Cut.

Oil was spilt on Monday night in the rough seas, which had created an "oil sheen" on a three-kilometre radius of water around the Rena.

The remains of a container had washed ashore at Te Kaha, while another container had been reported at Te Araroa this morning, MNZ said.

Beaches were relatively clear of oil and so it was likely that no clean-up crews would be dispatched today.

BOOSTER PUMP HOPE

Hopes of stopping the Rena spewing tonnes of oil into the sea were pinned on the booster pump, without which it would take two weeks of unhindered pumping to remove the 1300 tonnes of fuel from the ship's hull.

About 350 tonnes of oil had poured from the 47,000-tonne container ship into the sea.

Salvors on the ship had to abandon their efforts to remove oil at 11pm on Monday when rough seas made the operation too risky, and have not been able to resume pumping.

The pumping system created by the salvors has so far transferred about 90 tonnes of oil 160 metres through a 7.5-centimetre-diameter pipe to the bunker barge Awanuia.

The consistency of the oil, the size of the pipe, the distance it must be moved and the power of the pump have restricted its movement off the Rena to an average of three to four tonnes an hour.

At four tonnes an hour it would take 325 hours – 13 1/2 days – of constant pumping to empty the Rena.

The rate of pumping would increase once the new booster pump is in place, though officials could not say by how much, and portable steam units were being sourced in a bid to heat the oil and speed its movement through the pipes.

The salvage team was looking at whether the ship's auxiliary systems could be used as a power source.

MNZ salvage manager Andrew Berry said the ship remained in a "very dynamic" state. "While the forward sections remains firmly pinned to Astrolabe Reef, the stern section does move backwards and forwards to some degree with the waves and changing tide."

It was hard to determine where the new oil seeping from the Rena was coming from on the ship, but it was thought to either be from the duct keel or the bow.

The oil sheen being created by the leaks was being blown out to sea and was breaking up naturally in the water,  Berry said.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said yesterday the ship "had a mind of its own" and today was crucial for the outcome of the oil recovery effort.

"The ship doesn't appear to have deteriorated in this first part of inclement weather but there is another bout of weather coming. It is very precariously placed."

Bad weather also led to the cancellation of cleanup efforts on the areas beaches yesterday. There were now 207 live birds in care as well as three seals, and 1290 dead birds had been recovered.

Prime Minister John Key met members of Tauranga's Chamber of Commerce yesterday to hear the concerns of businesses badly affected by the Rena.

The chamber said there might be as many as 100 businesses suffering as a result of the oil spill, Key said.

He did not rule out the possibility of a support package being put together. "It depends what happens next with the ship and how successful we are at getting the oil off."

- MICHELLE COOKE, KIRSTY JOHNSTON and CLIO FRANCIS

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