By Lucy Craymer, Wall Street Journal
WELLINGTON—Oil from the damaged cargo vessel MV Rena has started to wash up on a popular beach on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, with salvagers now hoping that oil can be pumped off the ship before the weather worsens, Maritime New Zealand said on Monday.
“The weather is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so we are working around the clock to remove the oil,” Maritime New Zealand said in a statement.
“The weather will impact on both the salvage and oil recovery effort. The forecast is for north-easterly winds increasing and this will have an effect on our response and salvage operations.”
Oil began to wash up on the popular seaside destination of Mount Maunganui midday on Monday. Environmental cleanup and rescue teams are combing the white sandy beach there and others along the coastline to deal with seabirds that have been caught up in the oil spill.
The Department of Health is erecting signs warning people to stay off the beaches and out of the water, and to not to touch anything with oil on it. Locals have been asked to stay away, and to avoid eating shellfish caught in the area.
The MV Rena cargo vessel became stranded on the Astrolabe Reef in the early hours of Wednesday morning, as it headed to Tauranga. The oil leak was detected late on Wednesday.
There are concerns that the spilt oil could cause serious damage to nearby protected wetlands and local seal colonies, with fears that adverse weather conditions might damage the vessel further.
Maritime New Zealand said they hoped to get 1,700 tons of oil and around another 200 tons of diesel off the 32-year old, Liberian-flagged boat. It is thought about 100 tons of oil leaked into the duct keel from pipes connected to the tanks.
“Salvage experts and naval architects on board are very closely monitoring the ship and have got sensors in place that will provide advance warning if the vessel’s structure is coming under too much pressure,” it added.
Metservice has severe weather warnings in place for the region, with heavy rain expected from Monday evening until Thursday.
The salvage efforts have already been hampered by the weather, with the pumping of oil off the boat suspended on Sunday, when weather conditions made it too dangerous to continue.