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Rena oil spill: Thursday as it happened

Published: 6:35AM Thursday October 13, 2011 Source: ONE News

Live updates of developments in the aftermath of the stranding of the container ship Rena on Astrolabe Reef about 12 nautical miles off Tauranga early on October 5.

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A summary of the day's events:

* 88 containers have fallen off the Rena with one containing alkyl sulfonic acid.
* Mount Maunganui Beach to Maketu Point have been closed to the public today.
* The Government may offer Bay of Plenty businesses compensation packages.
* Mediterrean Shipping Company claimed they are not responsible for the incident.
* MNZ said 50 tonnes of solid waste and five tonnes of liquid waste had been scooped from beaches.
*Transport Minister Steven Joyce said salvage teams are working in very dangerous conditions.
* Bay of Plenty residents living near beaches have been asked to keep their windows closed.

7.10pm: Today the Rena's owners Costamare have apologised to the people of the BOP. And the shipping company who was chartering the Rena, Mediterrean Shipping Company, at the time and who were responsible for the cargo on board have fronted up on TV ONE's Close Up tonight. "We were waiting on the owner of the Rena to come forward first," MSC general manager Phil Abraham said. "It is a very complicated matter. MSC are not responsible for the incident." We cannot speak of the navigational circumstances, he said. "When we took the charter it was in good condition and met all the requirements as necessary." He said the company is bound to protect the interests of the cargo and he said they have been co-operating and have met with MNZ and Transit New Zealand.

6.17pm: John Key says he is doing his best and that people do not expect to see him picking up a spade as well. "At the end of the day there's a limit to what I can do. I don't think Phil Goff wandering around with a bucket and spade is actually going to fix the problem. Fixing the problem means we have to make sure all of our resources are mobilised." But Phil Goff hit back telling ONE News he was asked to lend a hand. "There are at least 1500 people volunteering to help with the clean-up. I was asked to lend a hand when I was talking to locals on the beach. So I did. John key's comments are disrespectful to all of those people helping out," Goff said.

6.13pm: From now on anyone involved in the clean-up will need to don a head-to-toe protective suit, high-vis vest and gumboot guards. And there is a decontamination process once they get back up from the beach - they will have to walk through three paddling pools to wash off any excess oil.

6.11pm: Ian Foden from Bledisloe Holiday Park said the oil is impacting his business. "We've already had people ringing up and cancelling bookings which is hurting us financially."

6.10pm: The ship's position is worsening now leaning at a 20 degree list.

6.07pm: The bulk of the oil remaining on Rena is in a watertight compartment at the back of the ship, ONE News reported. The danger is that the oil compartment could split open on the way down. The ideal scenario if the ship breaks up is to get the three tugs to pull the stern to the left and onto the reef near the front half. There is also a possibility the whole ship will tip to the side. This would accelerate the tear flip the stern upside down and send containers everywhere. The second option - the tugs could drag the back of the ship towards the harbour as far as possible before it sinks. The advantage of this is that it will sink in shallower water making oil recovery easier.

5.50pm: Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman Sophie Hazlehurst said around 50 tonnes of solid waste and five tonnes of liquid waste had been scooped from beaches early today and says a lot more will have been collected by now.

5.04pm: "The substance that is in the container that went overboard this morning is alkyl sulfonic acid. The way you'd treat that, or you'd deal with that acid, is that you wash it away with water.
"In that sense, that container might be okay," Anderson said.

4.16pm: In a statement Manos says the captain is "an experienced master and has an exemplary record" . The ships was fully certified and had been inspected by the flag state and New Zealand in August and September 2011. "They found no problems. Obviously something went very wrong." He said he apologises without hesitation. "To the people of Tauranga, we want to say that we are deeply sorry for the situation that has arisen and the threat you are now facing from fuel oil from the vessel washing up on the beaches of your beautiful part of the world." He said they will co-operate with the Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand to find the answer. He said they have sent experts to New Zealand. "For us one drop of the oil in the water is a drop too much." He could not comment on the cause of the grounding.

4.13pm: Anderson said at low tide the boat is sitting on the reef but at high tide it is floating.

4.07pm: Diamantis Manos, Managing Director of Costamare Shipping Company S.A. and registered owner of the Rena, has apologised to New Zealand in a statement.

3.57pm: Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the salvage workers on the ship are working in very challenging and dangerous conditions. "I personally take my hat off to these guys."

3.51pm: National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn said the exasperation for the teams comes when you clean up one section of the beach and then the next day you clean up the same area.

3.43pm: Anderson says it is a high risk operation and they have two aircraft and boats on standby, including a RNZAF Iroquois and a Navy vessel. He said aircraft flying in the area pose a real risk to salvage teams. He said the vessel is holding together well at this stage. Andersen said the salvage team assessing the ship could really see the damage done to the Rena including the large split on the hull down the portside.

3.41pm: MNZ Salvage Manager Bruce Anderson says the vessel has turned around 30 degrees pushing it more on to the reef, which he said is good news.

3.28pm: A fund is being established to help community groups care for the Bay of Plenty's coast and estuaries in the wake of the Rena oil spill. The Care For Our Coast Fund allows the public to make donations which will be put towards Coast Care and Estuary Care work not covered by the official recovery response. People can make donations through any ANZ or National Bank branches.

3.06pm: The effectiveness of the Corexit 9500 dispersant has been shown as insufficient to justify aerial application to the spilled oil. MNZ have ended the aerial application trials. There is 500 responders on the beach and six vessels are patrolling in the harbour picking up debris that has come from the ship.

Police are asking people to respect the restriction placed on Tauranga's beaches. Beaches from Mount Maunganui to Maketu have been closed for the next 24 to 48 hours while trained volunteers clean away the oil. Maritime New Zealand spokesman says bags of oil collected from the beaches are being taken to recognised landfill sites. "We've got an agreement with a local landfill operator to take a large amount of waste into that landfill site," he says.

2:11pm: There are concerns about the long term effects the Rena's oil will have on residents of Motiti Island, who rely on seafood and water collected in tanks. Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell says it costs about $100 one way to get on or off the island and with poisoned seafood and water the situation is getting dire. He is calling on people to donate food, water and other items.

1.42pm: Prime Minister John Key says there has been some discussion around what the liability of the owners is in terms of the cleanup. He said the provisional clean-up cost was estimated at $12.1 million - however there was a $3.5m oil levy fund available to the Government. "This is the subject of ongoing negotiations and discussions with the owners. I think it's worth mentioning that the Government isn't without legal remedies and these come through the RMA (Resource Management Act) and then also depending on whether a case for gross negligence can be proven then that opens up other opportunities for the Government."

1.30pm: More birds have been taken in by Tauranga's oiled wildlife response unit. Spokesman Bryan Gibson said they are now caring for 59 birds, mainly penguins and a number of seals.

1.28pm: The Government may offer Bay of Plenty businesses compensation packages. It is yet known how the Rena disaster will impact their livelihoods but the Government is considering giving temporary packages similar to those offered to Christchurch businesses in the wake of the September and February earthquakes.

12.55pm: Swells around the Rena have dropped to around one metre, making conditions better for the salvage team that has been winched on board. Pumping of the Rena's oil onto the tanker Awanuia could resume sometime tomorrow. Maritime New Zealand Salvage Manager Bruce Anderson says the Awanuia is already conducting preparatory trials.

12.30pm: Questions are being raised over deep sea oil exploration in New Zealand following the Rena oil spill. Greenpeace is questioning what would happen with a much greater spill from a deep sea oil drilling mishap. Spokesman Steve Abel says the Rena spill highlights how vulnerable New Zealand is. He said the coastal lifestyle provides a food supply and aspects of the economy depend on it as well as its reputation as a summer holiday tradition.
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira has criticised the Government's response to the "little oil spill". Harawira said the Government spent the first four days saying it wouldn't reach the beaches, but now the oil slick and dead birds are washing up on the beaches of Tauranga.
Maritime transport consultant Rod Grout says a major hub port for overseas ships would greatly reduce the risk of maritime disasters such as the Rena grounding. Grout said the lack of a national policy meant more overseas container ships making multiple port calls around New Zealand. "It should be no surprise that accident risk factors will keep going up as larger vessels operate hop-scotch services between lots of regional ports."
Labour leader Phil Goff says the National Government has frozen funding for Maritime New Zealand. Goff says the body which has  statutory responsibility over shipping safety and the environmental protection of our seas has had its funding frozen. "This five-year freeze has starved the organisation of the funding it needs to operate effectively," Goff said. Labour says MNZ has repeatedly warned that current funding levels are unsustainable and are having an adverse impact on its ability to monitor shipping safety and protect the environment.

12 noon: Maritime New Zealand has closed a long swathe of beaches along the Bay of Plenty coastline. The move has been taken as more oil spills onto the shore beaches, along with debris from containers that have fallen from the stricken ship. Beaches from Mt Maunganui, down through Papamoa to Maketu are off limits to all except those helping to clean up the oil spill. Meanwhile the Rena remains intact despite the cracks which have developed in the hull.

11.30am: Iwi are keen to get involved in any clean-up effort if oil comes ashore in the Coromandel. Waikato Regional Council has set up a communications network on the peninsula to look out for any oil coming ashore. Rapid response equipment, including absorbent booms, is on hand at Whangamata in case a mop-up is necessary. Council spokesman Stephen Ward says iwi representatives outlined the ways they want to co-operate in any emergency response. Ward says there were some very positive suggestions and the council's now looking at how it would work.

11.00am recap:
* A salvage inspection team has been deployed to the Rena to check the safety of the vessel and identify whether the systems on the ship are working, with a view to resuming fuel pumping operations.
* Safety of people on the vessel is the priority and evacuation plans are in place to remove the crew if they consider their safety is at risk.
* 88 containers have been confirmed as lost from the vessel - 48 are empty, one contains the hazardous material ferrosilicon.
* The public is being warned to stay away from the containers and report them to the police.
* The Fire Service is managing the recovery of the containers washed ashore. Those in the water will be recovered by the salvors.
* There are floating packages in Tauranga Harbour - a recovery operation is underway.
* There is moderate to heavy oiling from Papamoa to Maketu. Oil recovery teams are out on the beaches cleaning this up.
* Beach access restrictions will be in place from this afternoon to allow response teams to undertake clean-up operations.

10.45am: NZ Fire Service personnel are checking contents of containers washing up on Mt Maunganui to ensure they are not hazardous. Floating packages have arrived inside Tauranga Harbour and an operation is underway to remove those. Incident commanders have confirmed one of the containers that was on board the Rena contains explosive material - ferro-silicon.

10.30am: The salvors of the Rena say it's pretty inevitable that the boat will break up. Svitzer spokesman Matthew Watson says while it's a bit calmer on the reef it's still a very delicate situation. Watson says you only have to look at the damage to the sides of the vessel to realise how precarious it is.

10.20am: From midday beaches from Mt Maunganui to the Maketu Estuary will be closed due to public safety concerns as oil continues to come on shore. Salvage experts will be going on to the Rena today. The vessel's crack has not worsened but it is now listing at about 20 degrees. Seas have calmed with swells of one metre in the area.

10.05am: A second man has appeared in Tauranga District Court charged with "operating a ship in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to any other person or any other property." Along with the ship's captain who was in court yesterday, he has also been granted interim name and image suppression. He was released on bail without plea until October 19. He must surrender his passport, and report to the Tauranga Police Station, unless required to help with the salvage operation.
The judge noted there was the "risk of harm from a small segment of the community who might be less rational".

9.45am: Scam artists have been asking people for money to help rescue wildlife caught in the Rena oil spill. Maritime New Zealand is stressing it is not an official request.

9.15am: The Rena disaster is already having a big impact on fishing operations. Local fisherman Brian Kiddie says most vessels would normally transit through the exclusion zone to head down the coast. Kiddie, who is an executive member of the NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen, said while some fishing boats that can avoid the zone are still out working on the water, others have equipment in the closed off area. Kiddie told Breakfast this morning that the bulk of the Bay of Plenty cray fishery lies in the exclusion zone and bottom trawlers, surface line and blue nose fishers "pass the reef just about daily". Fishers have concerns that containers may be drifting about and Kiddie said the industry will be dealing with the disaster well into the future, "long after the beaches are clean".

8.25am: Ports of Tauranga is still fully operational but chief executive Mark Cairns says a significant oil slick could change that. Cairns says they want to make sure there are no containers in the harbour ways and while a ship could cope with hitting one it would be a different story for a fishing vessel.
Cairns said it is an "absolute nightmare" and "heartwrenching seeing oil on the beach". He said defence force personnel are trying to locate the containers and a "flash sonar system" being dragged behind one vessel is tracking containers.
"Oil's the biggest environmental risk - there's a number of cruise ships arriving through the week, it's a nightmare for the beaches but we've got to soldier on and keep the port open. It's critical for the economy we do that."
On closing the port: "I don't even what to contemplate that, the gross regional economy is about $16 billion, studies say 60% of that is tied to the port, it's significant, that's why we've got to keep it open."

8.10am: A Mt Maunganui resident has told ONE News that a container has washed up on the beach there.

8.00am recap:
* Clean-up teams have so far collected 50 tonnes of solid waste and 5 tonnes of liquid waste.
* Yesterday, 17 kilometres of coastline was cleaned of oil.
* Today the coastline from Whangamata to Whakatane will be assessed by the SCAT (Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Team) to determine the areas of highest priority for cleanup. The teams will then work methodically through the affected areas.
* There is a massive operation underway today with around 500 responders on the beach.
* The Rena is settled on the reef. However, the vessel is moving around a little with high tides - the next one is at 9am.
* The salvage master and the head of the MNZ salvage unit will make an assessment of the vessel and a plan will be developed to get the salvage crew back on board the vessel if it can be done safely. Human safety must be the priority and no action will be taken that will put lives at risk.
* The Wildlife team has established a seal capture team and have five seals in captivity.
* At least 200 dead birds have been recovered and this is expected to increase significantly. 36 teams are out in the field and at the wildlife facility. 47 oiled animals are at the rehabilitation centre.
* The public are asked to report dead birds and the wildlife team will retrieve the birds as they need to examine them as part of their process.
* Over a thousand people have volunteered to assist with the cleanup.
* Health warnings are being issued to prepare residents for worsening smells from the oil.
* The oil spillage on the beaches, combined with the current weather conditions, has produced in a noticeable smell in some areas. This smell is likely to diminish over a period of one or two hours from the time the oil reaches the beach.
* People in the vicinity are advised to shut windows and avoid the immediate vicinity of the beaches and all immediate or secondary contact with the oil spillage.

7.50am: MNZ pollution response manager Neil Rowath said the salvage team is there for the long haul and "as it comes ashore we'll pick it up". Rowath told Breakfast he doesn't expect it to become worse but it will be months rather than days and weeks. "We're lucky because there's a finite amount, we know how much is on the ship we know that's the maximum we have to deal."
Rowath said one of the key things they have been concentrating on is stopping the spread.

7.45am: The director of Massey's Joint Centre for Disaster Research says there needs to be an avenue for locals to vent their anger. David Johnston told Breakfast communities need to come together to share information and air their frustrations. He said the impact on the community has been underestimated and because the incident was caused by human error people want to direct their anger at someone and to see people held accountable.

7.30am: Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason told TV ONE's Business he is working with the Government to ease the impact of the environmental disaster on businesses. "One of the ideas we're working on is substituting staff that wouldn't be used for a two or three month period and could potentially be made redundant and trying to get those people cleaning up the beaches and then going back to their jobs," he said. Mason said businesses have also been downloading an emergency response manual that was created after the Christchurch earthquakes.

7.15am:  Major concern remains for wildlife. It is an aesthetic problem but the white sandy beaches covered with black oil makes it easier to clean up. There is still a strong smell of oil across Tauranga.

7.00am: The weather is set to improve slightly as salvage teams attempt to stop the Rena breaking up and sinking. Twenty knot winds are expected to drop to 10 knots, along with an easing three metre swell. MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt says the swells should drop back to two metres by tomorrow. The wind that blew oil across roads and left a film over everything yesterday has dropped.

6.45am: A summary of yesterday's events:
*There are two large fatigue cracks in the Rena, one on either side of the ship.
*Salvage experts expect the ship will break apart.
*Aerial footage shows containers floating in the water. Blue smoke can be seen from what appears to be a chemical reaction.
*Oil has reached beaches in the Tauranga harbour, and continues to wash ashore.
* Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the worst of the environmental impact is yet to be seen.
* A thick trail of oil is heading for shore.
* Prime Minister John Key says that the Government is committed to restoring the area to its previous condition. He confirmed that the insurance payout is capped, and that any costs beyond this would fall upon taxpayers.
* There are no estimates as yet for the total cost of the clean up effort.
*The ship's Filipino captain has been charged, and has had his passport confiscated.
*The second officer is also facing one charge, and will appear in Tauranga District Court today.
*Volunteers can call 0800 OIL SPILL . They will receive some basic training before participating in the clean up.

- with Newstalk ZB