Sinking Rena leaking oil

ANGELA CUMING, MICHAEL DALY , KIRSTY JOHNSTON AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 16:50 10/01/2012
Lyle McMahon

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee joined Environment Minister Nick Smith in Tauranga to talk about the latest Rena developments.

Sinking Rena leaking oil

The rear section of the Rena.
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The Rena.

Waihi container clean-up

Ayessa Ruck, 8, (L) and mum Raquel help out on Waihi beach.
CHRIS HILLOCK Zoom
Ayessa Ruck, 8, (L) and mum Raquel help out on Waihi beach.

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Oil from the Rena is expected to hit the shore this evening, with the slick set to extend further tomorrow.

Speaking in Tauranga this afternoon, Maritime New Zealand national on-scene commander Alex Van Wijngaarden said the oil had leaked into the water earlier today after the stern of the vessel sunk.

It was expected to wash ashore at Motiti Island by 6pm, he said. And it was likely the oil could hit Matakana Island and the shore of Matata.

By 10am today the stern had all but disappeared below the water, shortly before a crew from international salvage company Svitzer had planned to land on its deck.

Oil continued to leak into the surrounding waters.

Although the precise amount of leaked oil is unknown, Environment Minister Nick Smith said it was in 'single digits of tonnes'.

'The Rena is in her death throes,' Smith said.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee today visited Waihi Beach, where containers and debris from the Rena had washed up, and praised the clean up efforts of local volunteers and residents of the popular seaside holiday sport.

"They have tolerantly put up with all the inconvenience that comes from these types of events," he said.

And while clean up efforts continue, attention will soon shift to exactly what will happen to the now two separate parts of the ship.

"Our position at the moment is that the wreck will have to be removed," Browlee said.

It is now expected the Rena's stern, which held an estimated 400 containers, will have to be cut up on the sea floor.

The break up of the bow is seen as inevitable.

Oil spill response teams were gearing up to clean up the oil, including placing booms in sensitive areas, and the wildlife centre in Tauranga was being reactivated.

Rena grounded off the Tauranga coast more than three months ago, and split in two in rough weather at the weekend. By early afternoon the back section was perched on the edge of the Astrolabe Reef, about 75 per cent submerged with the rest sticking out of the water.

Grant Dyson, spokesman for container recovery company Braemar Howells, said two tugs had been sent to the Rena to try to contain drifting containers. They would be towed to a specialised recovery barge that was being deployed.

New exclusion zones have been put in place around the sinking ship.

TOTAL BREAK UP INEVITABLE

The bow section remains on the reef but Smith said it was now inevitable that would break up too. The Government expected the wreck would be removed.

It was the responsibility of the shipping company to remove the wreck and it was technically possible to do so.

There were three pollution risks, Smith said: oil in the keel, the release of the cargo and containers and the threat to navigation.

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Some containers housed toxic chemicals, but Smith said the biggest problem was the release of containers and timber debris, which was a threat to shipping.

Ships with sonar had been operating this morning and four were available to recover containers and debris.

"We are expecting about 20 per cent of the containers to float ... there are approximately 400 containers on the rear section so that is potentially 80."

NZ Diving and Salvage general manager Howard Saunders said the wreck would have to be cut up and moved.

"Under New Zealand law, you can't leave wrecks on the seabed," Saunders said.

The salvage team would have to get heavy equipment down to the bottom.

After the wreck was stabilised, divers would be sent down to cut the ship into pieces. Those pieces would then be lifted to a barge.

THE EXCLUSION ZONES

Announcing the new exclusion zones, Bay of Plenty's harbourmaster said all ships had to stay at least 200m clear of containers as well as any salvage vessel working on the response.

The temporary zones are in addition to the ongoing exclusion area within three nautical miles of the Astrolabe Reef and any part of the Rena.

The debris field was extensive, and its movement was unpredictable and could extend further, the harbourmaster said.

Boat owners were urged not to go out on the water unless necessary.

Island Air pilot David Yeo, who flew over to take pictures from above the air exclusion zone, said debris was everywhere, along with "stuff that looks like oil".

MNZ said 50 people were working on Waihi Beach to deal with debris that came loose during the weekend.

Another 30 people were working from Papamoa to Kaituna Cut and 20 were on Matakana Island.

Braemar Howells operations manager Claudine Sharp said containers could wash up on beaches as far as Mercury Bay over the next few years.

- Stuff

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