Leak displaces houseboat owners

Ten houseboat residents in Lyttelton marina will have to find places to stay for the weekend as a cordon remains due to a fuel spill. 

On Wednesday a Mobil jet fuel tank containing 1.2 million litres was damaged from a landslide following heavy rainfall.

About 1500 litres went into the harbour before it was contained.

A cordon remains around the marina while the fire service pumps fuel out of a catchment pond into two nearby tanks.

Naval Point Club Secretary Ken Camp said the houseboat owners were staying with relatives and friends.

"The marina is still shut for safety," he said.Environment Canterbury said yesterday the kerosene is dispersing and marine life has not been affected.

The fire service said they expect to finish pumping the fuel out of the catchment pond late today or tomorrow morning."It is still highly flammable," said the spokesman.

Meanwhile, Camp said selvage is about to begin on three boats that sunk during Wednesday storm.

"We have three [boats] on the bottom of the harbour because of the storm but haven't been able to get to them due to the fuel spill. The harbour master, selvage guy and various insurance companies are down there now looking at them," he said.

The boats were not leaking oil into the harbour, he said.


Mobil is vowing to investigate why their catchment ponds failed to contain aviation fuel which spilled into Lyttelton Harbour.

About 1500 litres of fuel leaked into the harbour on Wednesday after heavy rain caused a landslide into the tank.

The tank's catchment pond should have held all 1.2 million litres of the fuel, but it was damaged, said Mobil spokeswoman Samantha Potts yesterday.

Fuel went into a nearby storm water drain and into the harbour.

Nineteen households on Cressy, Brittan and Park terraces were evacuated due to fumes.

All of those residents were allowed back last night, but 10 houseboats still could not be accessed due to the cordon.

Potts said Mobil was unsure if the damage to the catchment pond was caused by the landslide, or was existing.

"We will conduct a full investigation," she said.

"We have already started gathering information but will need to wait until the catchment pond has been emptied."

It would take firefighters two more days pumping fuel into two tanks, she said.

Workers put in a secondary catchment pond on Thursday morning to stop the leak.

Canterbury University senior lecturer environmental chemistry Dr Sally Gaw said the jet fuel in the harbour would evaporate quickly and was unlikely to pose a long term risk to marine life.

Environment Canterbury said there had been no impact on wildlife and the storm caused no other oil leaks.

Potts said it was too early to discuss the future of the site.

"The tank farm is critical to fuel supply not only in Canterbury but the whole South Island," she said.

Greens MP Eugenie Sage, who lives in Diamond Harbour, said authorities should urgently investigate the vulnerability of the tank farm in extreme weather events.

"This is exactly what climate change is about," she said.

"It is in a logical place close to port but we need to find out if further extreme weather events are putting the harbour at risk."

The Press