Rena Updates From New Zealand

Containers and debris from crippled cargo ship Rena could be sighted along the Wairarapa coast within weeks, an ocean modelling scientist says. Two weeks after Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga, remnants of its cargo have been washing ashore hundreds of kilometres away on East Coast beaches.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) scientist Mark Hadfield predicted containers and their contents will soon be found even further adrift, so swift are currents in the area. 

Niwa will on Tuesday drop four sensors in the water, in an effort to predict where currents may sweep Rena rubbish.

Hadfield said projections showed the east Auckland current pushing lost containers around the East Cape which could see them off the Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa coastline in a matter of weeks."The currents in that area do move quite quickly," he said.

Of the 88 containers that have fallen overboard so far, 29 remain unaccounted for.

Another possibility was for debris to travel across the Pacific Ocean toward Chile, while a third could see containers off the Rena do a loop of the Pacific Ocean, eventually ending up back in New Zealand.

"That would take quite a while...we're talking at least a year," he said.

"Basically, when these containers hit the East Cape of New Zealand, they could go in hundreds of different directions."

Up to 10,000 containers are lost at sea each year, and some of those are used to plot ocean currents.

A container load of baby bath toys, including rubber duckies, lost in the mid-Pacific in 1992, travelled far and wide, with floating  turtles and frogs still being found more than a decade later.

Some washed ashore thousands of kilometres away in the Atlantic Ocean, being found on the northeast coastline of the United States.

Containers floating low in the water can be a hazard, more so to lighter vessels such as yachts, rather than ships, which can brush them aside with the force of their bow waves.

Rena: NZ 'racist right' condemned

A large Filipino seafarers organisation has condemned the stranded container ship Rena as being substandard but has also taken a swing at "racist and extreme right elements in New Zealand" who blamed its Filipino crew for the accident.

"[The disaster] shows the evils in substandard shipping and in the flag of convenience system used by unscrupulous ship-owners," the Manila-based International Seafarers Action Center (ISAC) Philippines Foundation said.

Saying it was "an accident waiting to happen", the centre noted the enormous damage to the ecosystem.

 "The trauma, fear and physical sufferings of the mostly Filipino crew on board, who were made to stay on board the tilting ship for six days without rescue, highlights the human and environmental damage that this incident has caused," the foundation said.

Rena highlighted a 50-year-old problem of sub-standard shipping and owners who tried to reduce cost to amass enormous profits, it said.

"(Rena) is an old and substandard vessel that was built in 1990."

In the last three years she failed half of her inspections and had been detained in Australia for 17 deficiencies, it said.

"It is not surprising then, that this vessel would figure, sooner or later, in an accident of this sort."

Many incidents with sub-standard vessels led to massive oil spills and the loss of human lives, the group said.

ISAC said it stood with the people of New Zealand in battling the effects of the oil spills.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) chose not to address them directly at this stage, a spokesman said.

"There are two thorough investigations being conducted that will examine the issues involved in the incident."

OIL PUMPING CONTINUES

A pump specialist was being brought in to advise on ways to speed up the pumping of oil off the Rena, MNZ said.

Salvors removed a further 60 tonnes of oil from the crippled ship overnight, and are continuing to pump today.

Pumping resumed around midday yesterday after being delayed for several days by weather.

MNZ salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson said the operation was making slow, but steady progress, with about 150 tonnes of oil pumped from the ship so far.

"The overnight crew will be replaced this morning and pumping will continue today," he said.

"The salvage crew also intends to do sounding tests on the tanks which will provide us with a more precise figure of how much oil remains."

Anderson said the wind was forecast to increase later today, but conditions were good this morning.

"We will continue to monitor the weather to ensure the salvage operation is safe. However, we will take advantage of the good weather while we can.

"The good news is the forecast is for fine weather for the rest of the weekend."

National on scene commander Alex van Wijngaarden said oil was continuing to wash up along the beach at Mount Maunganui and Papamoa.

Shoreline clean-up work would continue today, with teams focusing on both beaches. Crews would also be assisting iwi at Maketu and Waihau Bay.

"We're aware that some oil is mobilising on the surf line from the sand around Mount Maunganui and Papamoa. Because of this, we will keep the beaches closed in the interest of public safety," van Wijngaarden said.

The main Mount Maunganui Beach will remain open for public access, but not for swimming.

Van Wijngaarden said a lot of debris from containers was also washing up in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

"We have deployed a significant amount of equipment, along with shoreline clean-up specialists to lead volunteers there. As always, we ask members of the public to work with the response teams to ensure a methodical and safe clean-up."

Shoreline clean-up assessment teams have confirmed that earlier reports of oiling at Whakatane Spit and Ohope Beach were incorrect, he said.

CLEAN UP GEAR DELAY ANGERS

Meanwhile, the people of Waihau Bay, the beach on the East Cape made famous by the movie Boy were furious over a two-day wait for oil clean up gear.

Residents were quick to volunteer for the clean up when oil-covered deer skins, timber and milk powder from Rena washed ashore on Tuesday afternoon.

About 100 people put their hands up. But volunteer firefighter Joe Rua, who is co-ordinating the operation, said no equipment was sent to the small settlement the following day, despite repeated pleas to Maritime NZ for gloves and overalls.

MNZ on-scene commander Ian Niblock said there was a "miscommunication" with the people of Waihau Bay on Wednesday.

"They thought it was going to be airlifted in by helicopter but we ended up sending it over with the army. It arrived last [Wednesday] night."

But Rua said the gear did not arrive until 8am yesterday - about 36 hours after it was requested.

Conservation Department staff dropped it off, he said. "We waited and waited but we never saw the army all day [on Wednesday].

"We eventually got sick of waiting and adopted the idea that these guys were never going to arrive, so we had better roll our sleeves up," he said.

"We were bloody angry. The people around here are passionate about keeping the beach clean."


Boy director Taika Waititi also displayed his displeasure through a sarcastic remark on Twitter on Wednesday. "Great! Rena oil has reached Waihau Bay along with other junk from the ship. Nice rapid-response cleanup guys!"


Rua said MNZ had a responsibility to get the gear to where the problem was as quickly as possible, whether it was sent it to the wrong place or not. Between 25 and 35 kilometres of coastline in the area, including Whangaparaoa Bay and the Whangaparaoa River, had been contaminated to varying degrees.


Only 20 pairs of gloves were available at the fire station when people wanted to start cleaning up, he said. "We just had to fend for ourselves [on Wednesday] and round up whatever gear we could find, but it still wasn't enough to fully deploy everyone."


Rua said locals had support from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and two Maritime NZ shoreline cleanup experts yesterday.  


Eight hundred bags of oily debris were collected from Maketu Spit yesterday, in what Niblock described as "a good day's work".   


- Reprinted from Fairfax NZ - copyright owned by Fairfax NZ -