Pumping of oil from the stricken ship Rena could start today, Maritime New Zealand says.
MNZ Salvage Manager Bruce Anderson said if the weather stays the same, the vessel should remain on the reef, allowing salvage efforts to continue.
The ship ran into the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga last Wednesday, spilling oil and containers into the sea.
Asked how long the pumping operation would take at a media briefing yesterday afternoon, Anderson said it would be "more in the days than in the weeks".
There are approximately 1300 tonnes of fuel still on board.
Four platforms have been built and salvage teams were attaching them to the stranded vessel yesterday.
They will provide level ground for crew and equipment to work from.
Prime Minister John Key described the developments as a "positive step forward" but said there were still challenges ahead.
"The weather is working well for us at the moment. The swell is reducing and the conditions are better," he said.
Anderson said the operation is highly dangerous, with "complexity on top of complexity".
He said detailed risk assessments have been completed and rehearsals have been done on land.
Salvors boarded the ship yesterday and on Thursday to check on its condition.
They discovered the ship's structure has been under immense pressure but that pumping equipment was still in tact.
Key said salvors would aim to tackle the tank that has 750 tonnes of oil in it, before moving on to the other tank with 300-400 tonnes of oil.
The Rena is leaning 22 degrees on its starboard side and has leaked up to 350 tonnes of oil.
Of the 88 containers spilled into the sea, 35 have been located and tagged. Twenty have so far washed ashore.
Beach access remains restricted from Mt Maunganui to Maketu Point.
Around 3000 people have volunteered to clean up the beaches.
It is not believed any more oil spilled from the Rena today.
Wildlife toll hits 1000
The number of birds killed after coming into contact with oil has reached 1000.
There are a total of 92 oiled birds at the wildlife facility being cared for, including 17 rare dotterels.
Wildlife teams are aiming to capture another 60 dotterel to ensure the population is protected.
There are only about 1500 dotterels in existence, 100 of which are in the Bay of Plenty area.
A special aviary is being built at the wildlife facility to cater to the needs of these rare birds.
Environment minister Nick Smith says the bird recovery centre has been a big priority, and despite all their hard work, it is still expected thousands of birds will be lost.
Oil could reach Whakatane
Oil from the stricken ship could travel as far afield as Whakatane and Opotiki, Smith says.
So far, oil has washed up as far south as Maketu, but Smith has warned it could travel much further south.
"With the wind direction heavily to the west, Tauranga and that coastline is not as at risk," Smith said.
"There are reports that we expect some residual oil to be able to make it as far afield as Whakatane, Opotiki."
MNZ said last night teams were being trained in eastern regions ahead of the oil arriving.
Smith said it was not expected that the oil slicks in those areas would be as thick as what the Mt Maunganui beaches experienced.
National on scene commander Nick Quinn said MNZ is trying to mitigate the impact by setting up stations on the beach.
"These stations are designed to minimise the impact of the oil and get people in the right place and the right time," he said.
Key said the oil collected was being transported to the Hampton Downs landfill in Hamilton.
He said that facility had been designed to handle such waste.
PM can't guarantee financial assistance
Key could not guarantee financial assistance for locals affected by the spill.
"I'm not ruling it in, but I'm clearly not ruling it out," Key told media.
"I mean we try and help people where we can, we just need to assess what the full impact on them is and what capacity they have to mitigate any losses that they have.
"Some people carry insurance for instance, and that helps them, but let's just all see in time."
It is expected a number of businesses will be affected with the beach set to be closed for months.
Port back in business
Operations at Port of Tauranga resumed yesterday morning after being suspended the previous night when containers got into shipping channels, and debris from the Rena was observed off the port.
The suspension affected two ships - the Australian Express and the Kota Jati while other shipping movements were rearranged.
The port says Maritime New Zealand is helping by keeping an eye on the main shipping route from the air.
And the Navy is providing extra equipment and manpower so the port can provide 24 hour surveillance of the shipping channels.
- With Newstalk ZB