15 Oct 2011

Divers say vessel less stable than thought

5:30 pm on 15 October 2011

Salvage experts say the damage to the stricken container ship Rena is worse than previously thought and they don't know how long it will hold together.

Maritime New Zealand's salvage co-ordinator, Bruce Anderson, says while conditions are currently fine, rougher seas forecast for next week may cause it to break up or move off the reef.

Mr Anderson says four platforms have been attached to the side of the ship, and holes are being cut into its side to access the oil tanks.

But he says the ship is still shifting about and the situation is highly dangerous.

He says there should be time on Saturday to lower the pumps into position and test the systems, but the earliest they will be able to start pumping oil out is Sunday morning.

The vessel, owned by a Greek shipping company, has been stuck on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga since it ran aground on 5 October, carrying almost 1700 tonnes of oil.

Of the estimated 1,346 tonnes of oil believed to be on board the vessel, 770 tonnes is in the port tank, 356 tonnes is in the starboard tank and 220 tonnes is in settling tanks, Maritime New Zealand says.

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The oil on board has cooled to a dense consistency and the ship's engines no longer have the power to heat it.

As much as 350 tonnes of oil has spilled and 88 containers have fallen overboard, affecting shipping lanes.

Fourteen containers have been recovered, but not one containing the dangerous chemical alkyl suphonic acid.

Another 21 have been identified, but Maritime New Zealand warns members of the public not to open any that have washed up on beaches.

Locals shouldn't pay says Goff

The leader of the Labour Party says Bay of Plenty residents shouldn't have to dip into their own pockets for the clean up.

On Saturday afternoon, Phil Goff visited Maketu, where locals have paid for a large quantity of sphagnum peat moss to remove oil from rocks and water.

He says if the moss had not have been used, the area would be much more polluted than it is and more birds would be dying.

Mr Goff says the Government has been to slow to react to this disaster and needs to improve its act.

Peters' blast at government

New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters says the disaster has been compounded by Government hesitation.

The former MP for Tauranga made the criticisms at a public meeting in Tauranga in front of about 200 people.

Mr Peters said the unfolding disaster were the results of ministerial inexperience and an obsession with staged photo opportunities.

He said the first five days the Prime Minister, John Key, and the ministers of transport and environment were missing, and seemed obsessed with the Rugby World Cup instead.

He also told the meeting a shipping disaster was inevitable from the time a previous National Government in the 1990s deregulated safety laws.