Wellington: Salvage crews pumped oil on Monday from a stricken cargo ship teetering on a reef off the New Zealand coast, after the weather cleared enough to restart work on the precariously listing vessel.
More bad weather predicted for later Monday could hamper or even end the salvage attempts. The ship is on a steep lean and has major structural cracks. Experts say it could break apart or slip from the reef at any time.
The Rena grounded October 05 on the Astrolabe reef 14 miles (22 kilometres) from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand`s North Island, setting off what officials have called the country`s worst maritime environmental disaster. An estimated 350 tons of fuel have spilled into the sea near beaches on New Zealand`s North Island, killing more than a thousand sea birds.
Crews first began pumping oil from the ship on October 09 but quickly abandoned that effort due to bad weather.
The latest attempt has proved more complicated because of the ship`s deteriorating condition — a crack now extends the width of the ship — and steeper lean — the ship now has a list of 21 degrees.
Preparations took several days, with crews needing first to construct four wooden platforms on the side of the ship to provide a level base for pumping before the operation began late Sunday.
"This is a hugely challenging and risky operation even in full daylight," Bruce Anderson, who is heading the salvage operation, said in a news release. "These are incredibly brave and dedicated people."
So far, crews have managed to pump about 34 tons of fuel from the ship. Maritime New Zealand, the agency heading the response, estimates that more than 1,400 tons of fuel remain on board.
About 1,290 sea birds have died in the spill. Another 207 oiled birds and three New Zealand fur seals are being treated at a wildlife centre.
The Rena is owned by Greek-based Costamare Inc. Both the captain and an officer on the ship have been charged under New Zealand maritime laws with operating a ship in a dangerous or risky manner. If found guilty, the men, whose names have been suppressed under New Zealand law, face up to a year in jail or a fine of ten thousand New Zealand dollars (USD 8,000).
The New Zealand weather agency MetService is forecasting strengthening Northerly winds for the Tauranga area late Monday.