All of the oil has been pumped out of the cargo ship which had run aground on Astrolabe Reef (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), on New Zealand’s North Island, officials said.
After it got stuck on 5 October, the Greek-owned and Liberian-flagged ship, the MV Rena, leaked 350 tonnes of oil into the Bay of Plenty, one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations which is home to whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a variety of birds.
More than 1,000 sea birds have been killed by the oil leaked from the ship.
The ship was in danger of breaking apart, and salvage teams’ work has been made more complicated due to bad weather.
And with nearly 2,000 tonnes of oil remaining in the vessel when it got stuck on the coral reef, environmentalists feared a more important environmental disaster.
But according to Maritime New Zealand salvage teams have finished pumping oil.
The country’s prime minister John Key described the outcome as “very, very successful”.
“I think the people of Tauranga will be very happy they haven’t had the environmental disaster that some predicted.”
‘Sigh of relief’
According to the New Zealand Herald Stuart Crosby, mayor of the city of Tauranga, said : “The salvors have done an amazing job under treacherous conditions to avoid an environmental disaster.”
“I guess we’ve all gone through a series of emotions that we all do in this type of event. There has been disbelief, frustration, anger, and now relief – relief that the oil has been taken away by these great people.”
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.
This news means that authorities will probably reopen beaches this week.
However the threat of pollution from the cargo ship is not completely over, said Transport Minister Steven Joyce : “I think people in the Bay of Plenty will rightly be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief, but that doesn’t mean we are completely out of the woods.”
Before the ship can be moved off the reef, about 1,300 containers have to be removed, which will take several months.
According to Mr Joyce there is a “very significant risk” that during the operation several containers would tumble into the sea.