Salvage Team Set To Begin Pumping Oil From The Rena

Salvage experts are hoping to start pumping oil off the grounded container ship Rena on Sunday morning, but it will be a long process, Maritime NZ says.

Salvage experts are hoping to start pumping oil off the grounded container ship Rena on Sunday morning, but it will be a long process, Maritime NZ says.

The teams began attaching a pump to the Rena on Saturday to enable oil to be extracted without being heated.

Four platforms have been attached to the side of the ship to set up equipment, and extractor fans will be used to make fuel tanks safe from gases.

The tanker Awanuia is in position to receive oil from the Rena when pumping begins.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said it was not clear how long the oil-removal operation would take, as that would depend on the weather, the Rena's stability and the viscosity of the oil.

MNZ warned the operation 'will be a long process'.

The weather was expected to remain good for oil removal on Sunday and Monday, with rain set to start later on Monday and sea swells to pick up.

MNZ said 1346 tonnes of oil is believed to still be on board the vessel - down from 1673 originally.

Salvage co-ordinator Bruce Anderson said dive teams had discovered the vessel was not as stable as was thought on Astrolabe Reef, where it ran aground on October 5.

'While the bow is settled onto the reef and stuck firm, the stern is in a precarious position,' Mr Anderson said.

It was not clear how long it would be until the ship separated, he said.

Little new oil arrived on beaches on Saturday, while Environment Minister Nick Smith said the rate of recovery of dead or injured birds had dropped substantially.

More than 1000 birds had been found dead, while 140 live birds were being treated.

There were also 36 rare dotterels in purpose-built aviaries.

Just under 5000 people had registered to volunteer with the beach clean-up, while 382 Defence Force personnel were also assisting.

MNZ repeated its warning that attempting to clean the beach without specialist knowledge could do more harm than good.

MNZ said members of the local community had been showing their support in other ways - like delivering food to the beach clean-up crews.

A local bakery had delivered trays of sausage rolls, pies and cut lunches, while cartons of fruit had also been donated.

A radio station had run a barbecue and a bank ran a refreshment station for volunteers.

'It's very hard physical work cleaning up oil, and this has really given a boost to those people out on the beaches and around the shoreline,' MNZ on-scene commander Nick Quinn said.