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Maritime NZ Update- Sunday 9 October - Rena pumping to get underway

by Maritime NZ on 9 Oct 2011
The 236m long Rena stuck on Astrolabe Reef, Tauranga Bay of Plenty Times
The latest update from Maritime NZ on the Rena grounding was provided at a Media Conference at 1600 this afternoon.

Last Wednesday the 236 metre container ship, Rena, hit the Astralobe Reef just off Tauranga harbour New Zealand. She was traveling at 17knots, when she hit the well-known reef at 2.20am.

She has stuck fast with her bow in the reef. A massive salvage operation is getting underway some five days after the incident.

Rena has 1700 tonnes of fuel oil aboard and if this is released into the pristine coastal area it will be the most serious environmental disaster in New Zealand's history.

Salvage
The response/salvage operation is making good progress on a number of fronts. Significant equipment arrived overnight, including a helicopter capable of lifting gear onto the ship.

The Awanuia is now berthed alongside the Rena and the salvage team will begin pumping oil as soon as the equipment is connected and tested. The connecting process is expected to take 2-3 hours.

Salvors have today been focused on pumping fuel oil from the damaged No 3 tank to No 5 Tank which is nearer the rear of the ship, so it can then be pumped to the Awanuia.

As a precautionary measure, containers are being lashed more tightly to ensure the safety of the ship.

The weather is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so we are working around the clock to remove the oil. The weather will impact on both the salvage and oil recovery effort. The forecast is for north-easterly winds increasing and this will have an effect on our response and salvage operations.

Salvage experts and naval architects on board are very closely monitoring the ship and have got sensors in place that will provide advance warning if the vessel’s structure is coming under too much stress.

A Hercules C130 has been diverted from Australia to bring equipment, and an NZDF Iroquois is now stationed here. The HMNZS Endeavour arrives at 8pm and will be used as a command platform. The in-shore patrol vessels Taupo and Rotoiti are being used to monitor, and 12-15 land force personnel are coming from Linton to supplement planning staff.

A team of 25 salvors with international experience are now operating either on the ship or on shore and naval architects are developing a model of how the vessel will react as we move the oil off.

It is expected to take about two days to remove oil onto the Awanuia, all things going well. There is also dive support and a specialist container vessel available, which is expected to arrive Wednesday.

The top priority is to first remove the oil, then lighten the vessel by removing the containers, and finally, move the ship off the reef.

A series of covers has been made to seal the vents on the ship so no oil can escape.

Oil recovery
There is less oil around the ship now and not a lot of oil to be broken up. The weather is starting to change, and is forecast to deteriorate over the coming days, which will impact on both the salvage and oil recovery effort.

Although we have the lowest level of oil in the water currently, we expect to see more oil in the water in the next few days. The forecast is for north-easterly winds increasing and this will have an effect on our response and salvage operations.

We are expecting oil to come onto the beaches south of Mt Manganui and possibly around Papamoa around Wednesday and Thursday, but it is unknown at this stage how much and exactly when. However, we have response teams and equipment ready for this eventuality. This oil has to be recovered safely by trained personnel.

Oil response options

There are a range of spill response options available to us, and we are continually assessing the best use of these options as the situation evolves. These include:

Dispersant: results have been inconclusive to date, and international experts are testing to see if it is working. However, there is very little black oil about and we will continue to use the dispersant until it is proven ineffective.

On-water recovery: This is not the most effective method of recovery, as generally less than 10 percent of the oil in the water is able to be recovered. It is also very weather dependant.

We are employing two vessels using a 'J-Hook' boom between the vessels, which scoops oil from the water and skims it off into a container. Two more 'J-Sweep' operations are being prepared.

Protection booming: because of the strong currents, deep water and wave action around the Rena, it is impossible to use these booms. The responders would have done this if they could have, but it would have been ineffective and very hazardous to responders.

Tauranga has a very exposed coastline, and protection booms will not work in these conditions. This means we can’t stop oil reaching the coastline – and this is consistent with what has happened in other events like this in Australia and around the world.

Shoreline cleanup: This is the least preferred option, but we are fully prepared for this. However, removing oil from sandy beaches is technically relatively easy, but does require significant time and resources. The National Response Team has trained responders and Defence Force personnel who can supervise the many volunteers.

We really appreciate people wanting to help, but there are significant issues around safety and effectiveness. Oil is very toxic, and has to be cleaned up by people with the appropriate skills, knowledge and training.

PLEASE DO NOT attempt to clean up any oil, as it is not as simple as scooping it up. Also not doing it properly can both harm you and create more environmental damage.

If people want to help, or to report oil, please call 0800 645 774, or 0800 333 771 for oiled wildlife.

Groups and organisations interested in assisting in the response are asked to please call us on 0800 645 774 and register their interest. However, we are receiving many offers of help, so may not be able to get back to you immediately. Please be patient.

We have in excess of 500 people available to us. We have about 250 people on the ground now from many different agencies and countries. Another 300 are also available on short notice.

This is a rare incident globally, which happens only three or four times annually – hence the need to bring in local, national and international expertise.

Two independent inquiries into the causes of the spill are underway with Transport Accident Investigation Commission and MNZ.
Wildlife
Another oiled little blue penguin has been recovered and taken to the wildlife facility in Te Maunga. That brings the total number of oiled birds recovered to eight. All are in good condition and being washed and cared for.

At this stage, about 200 birds may be affected by oil coming ashore in the Papamoa area, which includes Little Blue Penguins, Shags and Red-billed Gulls.
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