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RENA Maritime NZ Update (127)

Sunday, 30 October 2011 6:00 p.m.

More than 1000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (HFO) has now been pumped from the stricken container vessel Rena, leaving about 360 tonnes left to be removed from the starboard 5 tank.

Maritime New Zealand Salvage Unit Manager Kenny Crawford said while the exact amount of oil pumped off the Rena was still to be confirmed, 1000 tonnes was a conservative estimate and a "significant milestone" in the operation.

Salvors were also now in the final stages of blocking off the flooded access way to the manhole that will allow them pump the water out and lower pumps into the starboard 5 tank, but had hit a snag with weather and tidal conditions this afternoon causing some more movement on the ship. This made it unsafe for divers to continue working.

"Unfortunately, the high tide and heavy swells meant that the divers were unable to complete the work this afternoon. But they will resume as soon as it is safe for them to do so."

Mr Crawford said emptying the starboard 5 tank was always going to be the most challenging part of the operation, and would be a 5-step process.

"The first step involves the placement and sealing of the coffer dam, which the salvors hope to have finished as soon as conditions allow. Step two is then to begin pumping water from the newly sealed passageway above the tank, so salvors can then remove the manhole cover into the tank, which is step three. Step four will then involve lowering pumps, pipes and other necessary equipment into tank itself, before the fifth and final step of beginning to pump oil."

However, he said the safety of the salvors remained paramount.

"While this may sound straightforward, this is still a complex, challenging and dangerous task, that can be affected by any number of variables that may result in salvors having to suspend operations.

"This means it is incredibly difficult to put a timeframe on when the starboard 5 tank will be emptied. We remain at the mercy of the weather, though the forecast is looking reasonable for the next few days. But rest assured, the salvage team will be working as hard as they can, as long as conditions safely allow, to get as much oil as possible off the ship."

With all oil now removed from the port 5 tank and as well the two settling tanks and single service tank, four out of five tanks containing heavy fuel oil on board were now empty.

Mr Crawford said while getting into the starboard 5 tank and removing the remaining 358 tonnes of HFO remained the salvage team's highest priority, they were also taking the opportunity to remove lighter oils from other tanks in the ship that were easier to access.

"There are still significant amounts of other oils on board, such as diesel, hydraulic and lube oil still contained within the ship, so work will continue on removing this oil as well."

National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn said these pockets of lighter oil - probably hydraulic and lubricating oil - were currently staying together within a 6km radius of the Rena and not coming ashore.

Reports of oil south of the East Cape were being assessed by an aerial surveillance flight this afternoon. If subsequent testing confirmed this was oil, Mr Quinn said it was likely to have come from the earlier release of oil 12 days ago.

Meanwhile volunteers have been cleaning up three areas of beach, with 160 people turning out today.

"We are as delighted as ever that people keep turning up, because volunteers will be needed for the long haul for beach clean-up" said Mr Quinn. 

"The more people that become involved, the faster their beaches will re-open," he said, "Every set of hands helps, and even though we have over 7,000 volunteers registered, we're not going to run out of clean-up for them to do. This is rewarding work and we'd urge anyone who can get involved to lend a hand."

Rena Awanuia and reef 21 oct