The container ship that ran aground on a coral reef off of New Zealand’s North Island on 5 October, leaking large amounts of fuel, has broken in two (photo, from aljazeera.com).
On Sunday the rear section of the Greek-owned and Liberian-flagged MV Rena, lashed by pounding seas, broke away, while the front section remains firmly wedged on Astrolabe Reef.
Between 200 and 300 containers out of 800 still aboard the Rena have been washed overboard.
“Of those 20% will float – the remainder will sink,” said Braemar Howells spokeswoman Claudine Sharpe.
“We have had a significant release of containers… and a significant release of debris from those containers,” said Maritime New Zealand spokesperson Ross Henderson.
“It doesn’t pose any health risk but if it does come ashore we are warning people to be weary that debris may come ashore.”
Among the debris that could begin washing ashore later on Sunday are timber, bags of milk powder and floating containers.
Mr Henderson also said that the storm which caused the ship to split will continue for another three to four days.
Maritime New Zealand salvage adviser Jon Walker said that the rear section of the ship will likely capsize and sink, making it considerably more difficult to recover any further containers.
“While reports at this stage indicate there has not been a significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely,” said Alex van Wijngaarden, on-scene commander for the national reponse team. He added that oil could come ashore around midnight on Sunday.
“Any oil coming ashore in the coming days is expected to be much less the amount that washed up after the Rena first went aground.”
Since it ran aground in October, the 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.
Although salvage crews have removed more than 1,100 tonnes of oil from the stricken ship, 385 tonnes remain aboard.
“The risk to the environment is a fragment of what it was, with at the most tens of tonnes of oil rather than hundreds of tonnes that potentially could be spilled,” environment minister Nick Smith told reporters in Tauranga.
Impounded in Australia
Last month investigators by The Associated Press revealed that the Rena had been impounded by Australian authorities only to be released the next day following an intervention by Liberian maritime authorities who essentially said that the ship was safe to sail and that the problems could be fixed later.
About 10 weeks later the Rena ran full-steam into a well-marked reef off the coast of New Zealand, causing what has been described as the country’s worst maritime disaster.
It is not clear whether the previously identified problems played any role.
The 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, polluting the environment and altering the ship’s documents after the crash.