Nearly half of the oil left on board the grounded container ship Rena in Tauranga has now been pumped off to the bunker barge Awanuia.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) Salvage Unit Manager, Bruce Anderson said 164 tonnes had been pumped off the ship over the past 24 hours, the highest daily rate to date. This brings the total amount of oil pumped off the ship to 645 tonnes, with about another 700 tonnes still on board.
All of the oil pumped off so far has come from the port number 5 tank, and pumping began this afternoon on the three tanks in the engine room which together hold around 250 tonnes of oil. This oil is being pumped into port number 5 tank and then out to the Awanuia.
“It is great news that we are pumping from the tanks in the engine room now too,” he said. However, he also emphasised that getting the oil out of the submerged starboard number 5 tank which holds 358 tonnes of oil remained a significant challenge.
National On-Scene Commander Rob Service said there had been no more significant leakages of oil from the ship. The small oil spill of around 5 to 10 tonnes from Saturday night was still in the area of the Rena and breaking up naturally in the water.
“We are tracking the oil which is heading north. Our predictions, however, are based on current weather and tide conditions and these are changing rapidly. We are continuing to model and remodel the movement of the remaining oil and where it might end up.”
Mr Service said a small amount could reach the shorelines of Tūhua/Mayor Island and the Coromandel, south of Whangamata. “If it does reach the shorelines, it will have been in the water for five or six days and will have broken down naturally quite a bit. What people may see are small patties or balls of tar.”
Mr Service said teams were planning for any potential impact and the rapid deployment of shoreline assessment officers. An offer of 200 volunteers for beach clean-up duties had already come in from Newmont Waihi Gold, the company that runs the mine in Waihi. A number of volunteers in the Coromandel had also already been trained.
“We have also already sent a Department of Conservation-led wildlife team to Mayor Island. They are working with iwi to assess the situation there and wildlife officers are now being permanently stationed on the island.”
The wildlife team reported that there was no oil on the beaches on Mayor Island. However, the team has collected two oiled birds – a fluttering shearwater and a little blue penguin.
“We think the birds may have been oiled at sea and come in at night,” said Oiled Wildlife Response Manager Kerri Morgan. The oiled birds have been taken back to the Wildlife Response Centre at Te Maunga for treatment.
A stabilisation site had now been set up on the island to deal with any more oiled wildlife findings.