17 Oct 2011

Salvage team continues to pump oil off Rena

9:54 pm on 17 October 2011

A three-man salvage team will continue efforts to pump oil from a fragile container ship grounded on a reef off Tauranga, weather permitting.

The Rena was heading towards Tauranga from Napier when it hit Astrolabe Reef on 5 October carrying 1700 tonnes of fuel and more than 1300 containers.

Bad weather hampered efforts to extract oil last week when heavy swells caused large ruptures in the ship's hull. Up to 350 tonnes of oil and 88 containers have spilled into the ocean.


By Monday evening, 74 tonnes of oil had been pumped from the badly damaged ship's tanks to a barge, but maritime authorities are preparing for the disaster to take a turn for the worse as winds, rain and choppy seas are forecast.

MetService forecaster Bob McDavitt says there will be swells of two to three metres overnight on Monday, with winds gusting up to 55km/h.

The company in charge of the salvage operation, Svitzer, says staff on the Rena will keep a close eye on the weather and will evacuate if conditions become too dangerous.

Project leader Drew Shannon says conditions on the ship are difficult as it is listing at 21 degrees, making it hard for crews to get about. Svitzer says crews will not cut corners to get the job done any sooner.

Maritime New Zealand salvage coordinator Bruce Anderson says he expects more oil to leak from the Rena and it is possible the back half of the badly cracked ship will come off.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce says the situation remains challenging and does not think there is a high chance of getting all of the oil off the ship.

Oil heated to hasten removal

Salvage crews have used booster pumps and heating systems in an effort to speed up the removal of oil from the Rena.

Mr Anderson says teams are trying to force oil the consistency of marmite through an 8cm round pipe and extra pumps will be needed.

Salvors may even try to restart steam-driven coils inside the ship's tanks to warm the oil and make it flow quicker and every possible technique to speed up the pumping is being tried before the sea becomes rougher, he says.

More Australian salvors on stand-by

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority says it has teams on stand-by to assist with the disaster if local authorities ask them to stay on.

Forty-six oil and marine experts from across the Tasman are helping with the salvage operation and oil clean-up.

Team leader Mick Fleming says the team has been asked to stay on for only another week.

He says Australia will always assist New Zealand with any disaster and is planning to send more teams if Maritime New Zealand requests it.

Mick Fleming says Maritime New Zealand's response to the environmental disaster was excellent.