The stricken ship Rena's lean has worsened as waves of up to five metres pound the vessel and heavy fog slows salvage efforts.
The ship, which ran aground off the coast of Tauranga last week, is now leaning 15 degrees to starboard, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says.
However the structural integrity of the ship was unchanged, and it is still in "relatively good shape".
The ship had straightened overnight after being on a lean of about 11 degrees yesterday.
MNZ CEO Catherine Taylor told TV ONE's Close Up the weather is conspiring against salvage teams.
"We are at the mercy of the weather. Currently we're fogged out and we can't even get near the vessel," she said.
Taylor said the salver has capped all the fuel tanks on the ship to minimise leaking should it break up.
But marine risk assessor John Riding fears it might be too late.
"Every time the vessel is moving I'm afraid to say the facts are that steel is breaking up and being pulled apart inside the vessel," he told Close Up.
Environment Minister Nick Smith told Close Up the conditions are pretty rough and there is an underlying worry that the vessel may break up on the reef, which he says is very much the worst case scenario.
'Worst environmental disaster'
The oil spill from Rena has become New Zealand's most significant maritime environmental disaster, the Government says.
Smith said this afternoon that oil had poured out of a new puncture in the Rena.
"The amount of oil that has been released over the last 24 hours is five fold what was released in the earlier period," Smith said.
He said the situation will get "significantly worse" in coming days.
Another 130-350 tonnes of oil spilled into the water this morning after a new hole formed in one of the ship's fuel tanks.
MNZ had previously estimated a spill of between 20 and 30 tonnes.
More oil to come ashore
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said significant amounts of oil would start washing up on beaches around Mt Maunganui from tomorrow and into the coming weeks.
Environmental response coordinator Nick Quinn agreed saying over the next 12 to 24 hours a significant amount of oil will come ashore.
He said it will be a lot worse than the clumps that have already washed ashore.
There are days and weeks of recovery ahead, Smith said.
"This is a sprint not a marathon."
MNZ says it is highly likely the oil will enter the harbour, and more is expected at Papamoa and Maketu.
Smith said every effort is being made to ensure that those responsible for this incident are held to account.
He said the Government made legal changes to that Resource Management Act that have substantially increased the penalties and officials are looking at what appropriate action should be taken to "hold those responsible for this awful environmental tragedy to account."
Tauranga residents are upset about the threat to their beaches.
"I'm really disgusted actually - I can't believe this happened -I'm really disgusted and really mad," one resident told ONE News.
Residents say they are not getting much information.
"Nobody really knows what's going on. If this was the '70s people would be out in the streets," another local told ONE News.
A meeting was held tonight at Tauranga Boy's High School for locals to get a briefing on the spill.
Joyce said the Government is committed to getting the beaches cleaned up.
The cost of the clean up had already risen to millions of dollars and most of that cost would go to the vessel owners under maritime law.
"There will be some cost to Government depending on how long this goes on," Smith said.
Clean up crews are on Mount Maunganui Beach using shovels to scoop globs of sticky, black, smelly oil into plastic bags.
It came more than 24 hours after oil first turned up on the beach.
More oil arrived with the high tide at 7.30am and pictures sent to ONE News by the public show that oil pollution on the beach has worsened.
Resident Chris Anderson sent photos taken at 6.40am, just before high tide and commented that it showed it was a "major slick, well past the stage of little globules".
"It smells like an oil refinery outside," Anderson said. He described it as an "utter disaster" that could well spell the end of tourism at the Mount for summer.
"We've only been at it two hours now and we've done 150 odd bags," one clean up worker told ONE News.
The barge being used to pump oil off the ship was damaged overnight and has returned to the port for repairs. It will sail again once it is fixed and the weather improves.
Tauranga City Mayor Stuart Crosby told TV ONE's Breakfast there was a strong community response to the oil washing up on the beaches.
"At public meetings I was at last night there was a strong determination for the community to get involved, but ultimately the response teams are the ones that first and foremost need to do their work," he said.
Residents have been told not to touch the oil, and to stay out of the sea.
Director of lifesaving on Omanu Beach, Allan Mundy, said they have roped off oiled areas and have already had to tell people to stop swimming over safety concerns.
"If you get the oil in your eyes it will sting and it will take a long time to get out," he told Breakfast.
"You can't see the oil but we are advising people not to go in the water at all."
Mundy said anyone wanting to help out with the clean up should follow the instructions on the Environment BOP or Maritime Safety website.
They can also call 0800 654774 to volunteer for a clean up team.
But residents are not giving up.
"Yeah I know the people have been told by the officials not to do anything but no one has stopped me yet," one resident told ONE News.
Mussel farmers are also helping to mop up the toxic oil.
Greenshell New Zealand has three Coromandel-based boats on site and they are using an oil absorbent spin boom to help with the clean up.
The Defence Force says all 24 crew who were onboard Rena have been successfully evacuated.
But one crew member suffered an injury to his leg today and had to be carried off on a stretcher. He is expected to make a full recovery but will no longer be part of the salvage.
A mayday call was made this morning and marine radio listeners told Newstalk ZB the crew requested an Iroquois helicopter to pick up those remaining on board.
A spokesman said the Navy and Air Force responded to assist in the operation as weather conditions continued to worsen .
Failed safety record
The Rena was found to have 18 deficiencies during and inspection in China on July 5. Twelve of which needed urgent attention before the vessel could leave port.
A follow-up inspection in Fremantle, Western Australia a few weeks later on July 22 found another 17 problems - most of which were resolved by the next day.
The most recent inspection was carried out by Maritime New Zealand on September 28 which was a follow-up visit to check the problems which had been raised previously.
The inspection in Bluff found only one remaining problem with the ship which MNZ says: "Related to how the vessel implemented the International Safety Management system which is an international process on ship operations and systems."
The ship had three months to correct the problem and the Rena was to have another inspection when it arrived in Singapore.
MNZ would not give further details of the "deficiencies" but has dismissed the Maritime Union's claims that they led to the Rena's collision with the Astrolabe reef.
It said the vessel did have a problem with its charts but this related to an area of the South China Sea, and not the coast of New Zealand.
Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood said yesterday a source had told him MNZ had noted various other deficiencies on the ship, including problems with the maintenance and propulsion of the main engine.
"As a union our first concern is that the crew are safe and well and no one is endangered in the salvage operation," Fleetwood said.
But Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the union is taking a political stance because of its concerns about international shipping.
He did not believe anything that came up at the inspection could explain how it ran into the reef.
-With Newstalk ZB