Experienced army drivers join efforts in tanking fuel cross country
The New Zealand Defence force is bringing out the big guns in an effort to assist with the current fuel shortage at Auckland airport.
A dozen experienced army drivers, accustomed to trucking cargo thousands of kilometres through the likes of Egypt and Antarctica, are set to get behind the wheel of tankers early Friday morning in an effort to redistribute fuel around New Zealand.
"You have to drive these vehicles with extra caution because of the inherent risks in transporting fuel," said Lance Corporal Kayley Hastie-Hunt.
Hastie-Hunt has learned the challenges of driving fuel tankers during her seven-year career as an army driver - some of which was spent posted in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
* Damaged Auckland fuel pipeline may have been waiting to break since 2014
* Latest Auckland Airport cancellations due to jet fuel pipe line shut-down
* Air NZ starts to restrict ticket sales and cancels more flights as Auckland jet fuel crisis deepens
"We are all experienced in driving Class 5 vehicles and so once we familiarise ourselves with the tankers we are good to go."
Fellow driver Lance Corporal Nix Vunipola said everyone in the team was eager to get on with the job.
"Everything I know about driving large vehicles I learnt through the army. I was a stay-at-home mum before I joined in 2009, so this task is a great opportunity to use my skills to help the community."
Vunipola drove 40-foot trailers laden with shipping containers at Scott Base and McMurdo Station during a posting to Antarctica in 2014.
She also became accustomed to driving about 500 kilometres a day, six days a week, from her time posted to the Sinai Peninsula.
She said she rang her husband, an army mechanic, as soon as she was tasked on Wednesday to drive one of the fuel tankers.
"I'll be away for more than a week, so he will have to take care of our three boys on his own."
The fleet of tankers will work alongside the navy's fuel re-distribution efforts aboard the HMNZS Endeavour.
The ship started ferrying 5000 tonne lots of diesel fuel from Marsden Point oil refinery to ports around New Zealand on Thursday morning.
Navy Commander Martin Doolan said the ship was loaded to maximum capacity - about 4.8 million litres of diesel fuel - for delivery to various ports,
"As soon as we offload, we'll be heading straight back to Marsden Point to pick up another 5000 tonnes," Doolan said.
The ship will continue to repeat the refuelling and delivery evolution, for as long as needed.
The air force is also supplying six refuelling operators, who will be working around the clock from 21-29 September at Auckland Airport to help transfer jet fuel from the tankers to the airport facility.
About 12 more NZDF personnel, including planners, logistics specialists and liaison officers were supporting Government and local industry in the national-scale operation.
Regular supplies of jet fuel, petrol and diesel to Auckland have been cut after the 168-kilometre pipeline that carries virtually all of Auckland's fuel from the country's only oil refinery at Marsden Point, in Whangarei, was damaged, apparently by a digger, last Thursday.
The pipeline damage has resulted in flight disruption and cancellations at Auckland airport, as well as petrol and diesel shortages.
Commander joint forces New Zealand Major General Tim Gall said the Endeavour can provide the equivalent of 150 road tankers of fuel.
"Deploying the ship will free up commercial tankers to reconfigure and focus on moving aviation fuel," Gall said.
"This will help ease distribution issues in other regional centres."
Refining NZ chief executive Sjoerd Post told Stuff in an earlier interview, the pipeline was still scheduled to be repaired between midday Sunday and noon on Tuesday.
That would involve welding in a replacement 17 metre section of pipe.