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New oil-spill threat after Rena container ship breaks off New Zealand

Reuters/aritime New Zealand/Handout

Oil-spill and salvage experts have been rushed to the cargo ship Rena off New Zealand’s coast after it broke in two in a storm on Sunday. The Rena caused the country’s worst maritime pollution disaster when it ran aground three months ago.

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A team of oil-spill and wildlife specialists were mobilised as oil again began flowing from the ship. Up to 300 containers were washed from the wreck and salvage workers said it is very likely the stern section would capsize, creating a threat to shipping.

The Rena has been stuck on Astrolabe Reef off the North Island resort area of Tauranga since 5 October.

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RFI/Anthony Terrade

It is now in two pieces which have been forced 20-30 metres apart after being pounded by waves up to seven metres high.

The National Response Team was ready Sunday for more oil coming ashore, although it was not known how much had spilled.

"The wildlife response had also been increased to help deal with any affected wildlife," said Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) on-scene commander Alex van Wijngaarden.

When the Rena ran aground, about 350 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea and was washed on to beaches, killing at least 1,300 birds.

More than 1,000 tonnes of oil have since been pumped off the ship but there is more on board.

Originally the ship was estimated to be carrying 881 containers, some carrying hazardous cargo.

Many have been removed but between 200 and 300 are reported to have been washed overboard as the ship separated. Up to 60 are believed to have remained afloat.

But more are likely to be lost before the storm eases in about three days, according to MNZ salvage unit manager David Billington, and the stern section is likely to capsize and sink, making recovery of containers more difficult.

Attempts were being made to tag the containers in the water as it was too rough to tow or recover them and a navigational warning was issued to shipping.

The regional harbour master was also considering extending the three nautical mile exclusion zone set up around the Rena because of the large field of debris flowing from the ship.

The Filipino captain and second officer of the Rena have been arrested and face multiple charges, including operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk.

They have also been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, because of accusations documents were altered after the grounding.

The two men are on bail and housed at a secret location because of fears for their safety.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has claimed the Rena hit the Astrolabe Reef while taking a short cut to reach port.
 

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