The company that chartered the stricken ship Rena will pay $1 million towards the clean-up.
Salvors were today waiting out bad weather hitting the Tauranga coast before returning to the Liberia-registered container ship which grounded on the Astrolabe Reef on October 5 and has so far spewed about 350 tonnes of oil into the sea.
Kevin Clarke, managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Mediterranean Shipping Company, today announced the $1 million donation.
"We wish to emphasis that MSC does not own the Rena, we did not employ its crew and we are not responsible for the maintenance and operation of the vessel," Clarke said.
"From the outset we have been working behind the scenes with the authorities, including Maritime New Zealand and Port of Tauranga."
The donation was voluntary, Clarke said.
"We are deeply concerned about, and saddened by, the environmental damage, economic impact and disruption to lives caused by the accident involving the Rena."
Asked if the payment was an indication of guilt, MSC's general manager Phil Abraham said that was not the case.
"There's no guilt at all expressed by ourselves.
"We do feel for the Bay of Plenty. We feel corporate responsibility to participate and help with the clean-up."
KEY: NEXT 24 HOURS CRITICAL
Prime Minister John Key says the next 24 hours are critical to the success of the oil recovery mission on the Rena.
The sea in the area has been experiencing a swell of between 2 - 4 metres, making pumping impossible.
Following a briefing in Tauranga, Key said the next 24 hours were "critical'' to the oil recovery mission.
"There are no more salvors on the boat at the moment but they are likely to return very soon.''
They were concentrating on speeding up the time it took for the oil could be transferred from the Rena to the oil carrier ship Awanuia, Key said.
"They've got to get through the next 24 hours, if we do that, they are more hopeful the weather will be helpful to them over the coming days.
FRESH OIL LEAK
A small amount of oil had leaked overnight and could be seen as a sheen drifting north of the ship, salvage head Andrew Berry said.
He said while everyone would like the operation to go faster, he was happy that the salvors were "working as quickly as safely possible."
The ship was sitting hard on the reef, he said, although it was moving around slightly.
The changing weather conditions meant the salvors had to assess the situation "moment by moment", Berry said.
Heavy swells of between 2.5 - 4m had forced crews to stop pumping last night at 11.25pm, Svitzer spokesman Matthew Watson told Radio New Zealand this morning.
Watson was hopeful pumping would resume today and said there would also be an effort to connect a booster pump to increase the amount of oil pumped.
Around 90 tonnes of oil was removed from the ship's No. 5 port tank before pumping was stopped last night.
KEY TOURS ANIMAL RESCUE CENTRE
Prime Minister John Key was given a "watered down" tour at the National Oiled Wildlife Centre this morning, after staff decided he wouldn't want to get oily.
Key spent about half an hour viewing the clean birds and washing room at the centre.
"I think it's a horrible thing to seen animals suffering and dying as a consequence of this," Key said.
"We know over 1200 birds have lost their lives, we need to try and minimise that as much as we can. The great work that's happening here is certainly saving a lot of lives."
Answering queries about offshore drilling, Key said it was a "balancing act" between business and the environment.
"We need to protect the environment as much as we can but not to the point where we do absolutely nothing."
"This is a tragedy that's occurred [through] no fault of any New Zealander - this is a boat that's run aground and accidents do happen whether they're on land or on sea or in the air," he said.
BEACH CLEAN-UP ON HOLD
Bad weather which was hampering the pumping effort on the Rena had also caused the cancellation of beach clean-ups in Tauranga today.
MNZ had earlier hoped to open some beaches if they were assessed to be safe.
Meanwhile, there had been no fresh reports of oil on beaches overnight, National On Scene Commander Ian Niblock said.
There were now 207 live birds in care as well as 3 seals, he said, while 1290 dead birds had been recovered.
Four dead seal pups had also been found, but a spokesman for the Wildlife Response Centre said autopsies hadn't yet been conducted, which meant it was too early to attribute the deaths to the oil spill.
Yesterday it was announced that new "tar patties" from the oil spill had begun washing up on the shores of White Island, 49km off Whakatane.
Testing had discovered oil buried as deep as 20cm below the sand in areas such as Papamoa, MNZ's Nick Quinn said.
Any new oil released last night or today as a result of rough seas was expected to strike Papamoa Beach first because of the forecast northerlies.
Svitzer salvage master project leader Drew Shannon, who has worked on many salvage operations around the world, said the Rena presented unique problems.
Nine salvors had been working around the clock on the stricken ship, each man doing an eight to 10-hour shift.
"It will be a difficult and challenging operation, there is no two ways about that."
The ship was on a 21-degree angle which made the salvage team's job onboard complicated.
"It is in a serious condition, everyone can see that. We have to take this carefully," Shannon said.
The salvors' current priority was to safely remove the oil from the Rena without causing further damage, he said.
When that task was done, they would turn to the problem of removing the wreck.
Peter Dawson, a maritime lawyer and secretary of the Maritime Law Association of New Zealand and Australia, said most salvage operations were conducted under a contract called the Lloyd's Open Form.
The most widely used "no-cure, no pay" contract states that in return for salvage services, the salvor will receive a proportion of the "salved value" (the value of the ship, its bunkers and cargo).
According to the International Salvors Union, it means that, traditionally, reward depended upon the success and the recovery of the vessel.
More recently, an additional special compensation clause, known as Scopic, has been added that also allows salvors to be compensated for their work in the removal or prevention of pollution.
"If they can't pull the vessel off then they wouldn't receive a salvage award but they would still be paid in regards to the Scopic arrangement," Dawson said.
"Depending on how dramatic and how difficult the salvage is the more money they can make. The amounts will be decided later or can be agreed upon through an arbitration process."
The ship's insurers would ultimately pick up the cost of any salvage efforts, Dawson said.
He said salvors themselves came from a range of backgrounds but many had previously been marine engineers.
"It's a very, big business with highly capable people. What's always struck me over the years is that salvors are a unique breed of people - they never see anything as too big a challenge," Dawson said.
SUPPORT FOR BUSINESS
Prime Minister John Key continued to be open to a possible support package for those businesses badly affected by the wreck and oil spill of the Rena.
Key met with members of Tauranga's Chamber of Commerce in private this morning.
"It was useful to get an understanding of their issues. It's quite a small, compact number of businesses at the moment. But those ones that are affected are quite heavily affected.''
The Chamber thought there may be as many as 100 business in total who had suffered from the oil spill, Key said.
"They're quite realistic, they are not overly looking for compensation but they are looking for us to try and resolve issues as quickly as we can. There is a number of things we are going to follow up on.''
He did not rule out there the possibility of support package - similar to the one provided for those affected by the Christchurch earthquake - being put together.
"It's possible. It's a much, much smaller, defined group at the moment. It depends what happens next with the ship and how successful we are at getting the oil off. But look, we've got some things we can work our way through.''
The group he met with were not angry, but were concerned, Key said.
Fishing operators who usually work in the marine exclusion zone - which stretches from Mt Maunganui to Maketu - were currently not able to sell seafood to local or export markets.
"Their main issue really is looking to the future - just to make sure they preserve their image ... of high quality seafood.''