Container ship strikes reef, flooding
There is significant flooding onboard a large container ship which has run aground on a reef off the coast of Tauranga.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) this afternoon said some fuel from hydraulic pumps on the Rena, a Liberia-flagged 235m vessel, had leaked, but its fuel tanks were still intact.
It was not known how long it would take for the ship to be recovered, as it was stuck "hard and dry" on the reef, Maritime NZ incident controller Renny van der Velde told media at a conference this afternoon.
The ship had been heading to Tauranga from Napier when it crashed into the Astrolabe Reef, about 7km north of Motiti Island, around 2.20am.
The ship was now on a 10-degree list but stable on the reef. There was no explanation yet about what happened, according to Maritime New Zealand.
As the Rena was carrying around 1700 tonnes of fuel, the national oil response team had been activated - but only as a precaution, van der Velde said.
There was no sign of oil leakage other than some hydraulic fuel, which could be seen as a light sheen around the vessel.
However, there was "significant flooding" onboard in two of the ship's cargo holds and in two twin tanks to the side of the cargo hold, he said.
The water was being pumped out.
The ship's hull had been badly damaged in the grounding. A number of tanks had been breached, van Der velde said.
"But the important thing is that everyone is safe," he said. There were 25 crew aboard, who would remain on the ship.
A maritime safety inspector was also on board and salvage advisors would head to Tauranga tomorrow to help prepare a salvage plan.
The owner would then have to seek approval from MNZ to go forward.
Tauranga regional harbour master Carl Magazinovic said MNZ was involved due to the size and complexity of the grounding.
As a precaution fuel in the ship's port tanks was being shifted to the starboard side.
The Marine Pollution Response Service (MPRS) was called this morning and trained spill responders with equipment were heading to Tauranga. They were equipped with dispersant and booms in case of a spill.
Members of the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team were also on their way.
MNZ had also activated its Maritime Incident Response Team, which was monitoring the situation from Wellington.
Magazinovic directed all unauthorised ships to stay at least 1 kilometre clear of the Astrolabe Reef and the grounded ship until further notice.
He said there were already reports of sightseeing vessels nearby, potentially causing safety issues and disrupting response efforts.
"This situation is expected to continue for some time so we will be monitoring movement of vessels around the area, and anyone found breaching the exclusion zone could face a fine of up to $20,000."
Howard Saunders, a marine expert from New Zealand Diving and Salvage, said it was normal practice to make the ship lighter and wait for the high tide to get it off the reef.
"When vessels go aground, if they are carrying goods, you have to get some of the goods off to lighten it.
"And normally you try and take something off a reef or rocks at high tides when there is more water," he said.
Port of Napier said the ship made its weekly stop earlier this week and left for Tauranga on Tuesday morning. Its next port of call was to be Brisbane.
The weather was fine in Tauranga, with the chance of some showers. There was fair visibility with northeast winds at 18.5kmh, rising to easterly 37kmh this afternoon, and swells were up to 1m high.
In August the Australian Maritime Safety Authority ordered the Rena detained for more than a day.
The 22-year-old ship was found in Freemantle to have a number of serious deficiencies including defective hatchway covers, and incorrectly stowed cargo. It was allowed to sail when the hatch covers were secured.
The ship is owned by the company Costamare Inc, of Greece, and was under the charter of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).
While MSC was helping Maritime NZ with its inquiry, responsibility for the stricken craft reverted to the owners until the issue was resolved.
It was carrying export product such as milk powder, timber, fish and meat.
NEW ZEALAND FUEL-RELATED SHIPPING ACCIDENTS
There have been five significant shipping incidents since 1990:
* 1998: Dong Wong 529 spilled 400 tonnes of automotive gas oil off Steward Island.
* 1999: Rotoma spilled about 7 tonnes of oily bilge discharge around Poor Knights Island.
* 2000: Sea Fresh poured 60 tonnes of diesel near the Chatham Islands.
* 2002: Jody F Millennium spilled 25 tonnes of fuel at a Gisborne beach.
* 2002: Tai Ping was grounded near the entrance to Bluff Harbour. No oil was spilled.