Oil from stranded ship reaches New Zealand shores

Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:19 AM
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TAURANGA, New Zealand, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Oil leaking from a ship aground off the New Zealand coast has reached the shore and residents are complaining about a slow response from the government.

Maritime New Zealand advised against civilians cleaning up beaches, but some Bay of Plenty residents were critical of the official response, saying little was being done to remove the oil globs that reached the shoreline, TVNZ One News reported Monday.

Oil from the container ship Rena began soiling Mount Maunganui's main beach Monday, creating what some observers say is a potential public health crisis and environmental disaster.

"Look at the beach, it's a beautiful beach and it's buggered from oil," resident David Lynn told TVNZ One News. "They're going to have to hold someone responsible and clean it up."

Maritime New Zealand said a team was on the beaches to assess the situation. The department advised the public to stay away from the beaches and not eat seafood or shellfish from the area.

The Rena ran aground Wednesday off Tauranga. It ruptured Friday, spewing fuel into the ocean, officials said. The 21-year-old ship had about 1,700 tons of fuel, and its cargo included four containers of ferrosilicon, a hazardous substance used as a source of silicon to deoxidize steel and other ferrous alloys.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said removing oil from the ship still remains the key priority, TVNZ One News said. Of the 1,700 tons of oil on board the Rena, 100 tons were "unaccounted for," Joyce said.

He said estimates of the amount of leaked oil range from 10 tons to 50 tons.

"The oil is the biggest environmental impact. It's bigger than any of these containers I understand," Joyce said.

Efforts to pump the fuel from the ship were suspended Monday because of poor weather, 3 News reported.

A boom was erected to try to protect wetlands from the oil but officials said the rough weather adversely affected its effectiveness.

"The booms we have simply won't operate effectively in bad currents so we've done the best we can and we're hoping the oil won't get there," Maritime New Zealand official Rob Service said.

Animal response teams were on the beaches to help birds caught in the slick.

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