A week ago bad weather forced salvage crews to stop pumping fuel from the stricken cargo ship, the Rena (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), which ran aground on a coral reef off of New Zealand’s North Island on 5 October.
But the pumping was resumed on Monday, with a second pump being added in order to hasten the removal of oil.
More bad weather is expected for Monday night in the Bay of Plenty, but WeatherWatch said it would not be as bad as last week’s.
In a statement Maritime New Zealand said that a crew of three salvage team members would remain on board overnight to continue pumping as long as weather permitted.
The Rena is stuck on Astrolabe Reef and is on a 21 degree lean.
Nick Smith, New Zealand’s environment minister, said it was the country’s most significant maritime environmental disaster.
According to him the ship which was badly damaged in high seas last week may have been taking a shortcut.
“It appears from the charts that they were in a rush to get to port, went full bore, cut the corner, and hit the reef,” Mr Smith told national television station TV3 on Saturday.
An investigation is under way to find out why the ship had collided with the Astrolabe Reef.
In the meantime the Rena’s Filipino’s captain and the officer on navigational watch at the time of the incident have been charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk, a charge which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
‘A long, slow and steady process’
About 34 tons of fuel have been pumped so far from the 236-metre ship, said AP news agency.
But salvage teams progress slowly because of the toxic fumes, the thickness of the oil and the fragility of the ship.
“We will be continuing to pump oil for as long as we possibly can today,” said MNZ Salvage Unit Manager Andrew Berry on Monday.
“The operation is still very much dependent upon a number of factors, such as weather, equipment, vessel stability and other considerations, which will have an impact upon how well this process goes.”
“The key point is that every drop of oil that we can get off the ship is one less drop that can potentially end up in the environment, but it will be a long, slow and steady process,” he added.
According to experts the ship’s hull is cracked, which means that it could break up or slip from the reef at any moment.
“That ship is very, very sick. She is fractured, she is broken, she is on her knees,” Matt Watson of the Svitzer salvage company told Radio New Zealand, AP reports.
More than 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and more than 80 containers have washed up along a 60 km section of the coast. A clean-up operation is in progress.
About 1,250 sea birds have died in the spill and environmentalists warned that it would be a disaster if all 1,700 tonnes of oil and 200 tonnes of diesel held on board spill from the vessel.
The disaster has angered New Zealanders who are taking actions as almost 5500 volunteers have registered to help with the clean-up operation (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk).
People have also been restricted from using popular beaches and urged not to collect or eat shellfish from the beaches where oil has come ashore while public health warnings remain in force.