Oil from the stricken container ship Rena is spreading faster than expected in the Bay of Plenty region leaving dead marine life in its wake, The Dominion Post reported Tuesday.
Up to 300 tons of heavy fuel oil has leaked from the ship's ruptured hull since it ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga Oct. 5.
Stormy weather was diminishing hopes of removing the remaining 1,400 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel aboard the ship, authorities said.
New Zealand Environment Minister Nick Smith said the crisis was the country's "worst maritime environmental disaster."
Oil was arriving on beaches much more quickly than bacteria could break it down, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research marine ecologist Drew Lohrer said.
"In areas where the oil arrives in thick slicks or clumps, it may take years or decades for it to disappear naturally," he said. "This is why it is imperative to clean up as much of the spill as possible."