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RENA Maritime NZ update (69)

Sunday, 16 October 2011 7:00 p.m.

The focus of operations today has centred on the salvage effort aboard Rena with good progress being made on preparations for pumping oil. All preparations have been done to begin pumping.

MNZ Salvage Unit Head Bruce Anderson says he received a plan from the salvage crew that will allow them to stay on the vessel overnight and all of tomorrow.

"The safety of the salvage team is paramount and I had to be satisfied that there is a workable plan to rescue the people from the vessel if something goes wrong.

"I have now seen the plan which states the steps they will take to ensure the safety on board overnight to complete preparations and then start pumping fuel to the tanker Awanuia that is lying off the Rena's stern."

Pumping has not yet started, although Mr Anderson says the salvors and all those involved are very keen to begin fuel recovery as soon as possible.

"The team has encountered a number of technical difficulties, but the calm conditions and the forecast for the next 24 hours give them a good opportunity to get this work underway.

"This is a hugely challenging and risky operation even in full daylight - these are incredibly brave and dedicated people working very hard to protect the beaches and coastline of the Bay of Plenty and the communities who use them.

National On Scene Commander Nick Quinn said that there was an added level of complexity to the operations due to the list of the ship and the consistency of the oil.

"While we understand that everyone is anxious to know the oil is being removed, we need to be absolutely sure our systems are firmly in place and that we mitigate against all risks, including the safety of salvage crews and protection of the environment.

"The good news is that the beaches are cleaner, the salvage team have achieved some vital preparation today and the wildlife response is in full swing, but we can't lose sight of the threat that still remains.

"It's crucial we stay one step ahead and are well prepared for whatever the situation throws at us," Mr Quinn said.

While the weather has been good for the past few days, it is expected to deteriorate late tomorrow which may impact on the operation.

Health

  • The public are advised not to collect and consume shellfish from waters with visible oil contamination. Any seafood that has "off "or petrol like odours should be avoided.
  • This advice remains in place even for beaches that were contaminated and which have now been cleaned and reopened.

Salvage:

  • The platforms have been put in place on the ship and the Awanuia is in position along with the Napier-based tug Ahuriri. They have attached a floating line so they can now concentrate on moving fuel from the vessel and force it through.
  • They hope to start pumping today.
  • On No 5 port tank they have penetrated the deck to get hoses into the portway the length of the ship. However the atmosphere has to be checked as due to fumes they cannot work inside at the moment - it's like working inside a petrol tank.
  • So far there is 770 tonnes in the No5 port tank and two large settling tanks handy to the engine room.
  • They are less sure about the amount of fuel in No 5 starboard tank, which is under water. It doesn't appear ruptured and there is no sign of oil coming out.
  • They will have to do a "hot tap" which requires drilling through several layers, closing the valve and extracting the oil. They know there are 1000 tonnes on the vessel and another 360 tonnes that can't be confirmed.
  • The Archimedes pump can do anything from 0 to 86 tonnes an hour and about 20 tonnes an hour is realistic.
  • It is still a real possibility that the ship could slip off the reef.

Beach cleanup:

  • The volunteer force on the beach is extraordinary and they are employing sound environmental practices. Vehicles are only being used on clean areas.
  • The surf zone effectively breaks down the oil and weather is a key factor.
  • There is an oil sheen 20 km west of White Island which is significantly diminished. The more chop, the better for breaking down the oil.
  • A command post has been set up in Whakatāne and another in Waihī
  • A lot of fist-sized balls of weathered oil are arriving on the beach and these can be easily picked up. Some oil has been seen around the Mount base.
  • The Mount main beach has been reopened up to Leisure Island and the rest of the beach is closed while water sampling is done to see if oil is buried in the sand.
  • A heavy science programme is underway in monitoring and surveillance of the 30 km of beach from the Mount to Maketū and inland. Teams are reporting back on the extent of the oil.
  • Very little oil is coming ashore now but. at some point due the nature of the RENA's  position on the reef it is likely there will be another release.

Wildlife

The community are reminded that if they observe oiled birds or seals, they should call the Wildlife Response team on 0800 333 771 rather than contacting their local Department of Conservation office.
Members of the public should not attempt to touch, move or clean any wildlife for the safety and welfare of both parties.
The seal recovery team will assess any seals.  Seals groom themselves a lot to keep their fur .
Seals should not be approached. Members of the public should stay at least 5metres away. Seals often come ashore to rest and sleep - this is normal behaviour. Coughing/sneezing and weeping eyes is also usual. Seals will be assessed and will be left on the beach if healthy.
39 wildlife crews started today and have patrolled the coastline from Waihi through to Torere around the East coast.
181 birds are now in the Oiled Wildlife Recovery Centre. 143 little blue penguins, 2 pied shag, 1 kingfisher, 1 fluttering shearwater, 1 white fronted tern and 36 NZ dotterel.
1250 dead birds have been recovered to date.
The Oiled Wildlife Recovery team have been working hard today on forward planning for future scenarios which might eventuate over the following few days.
It is imperative that all wildlife is assessed (even if dead), by the official wildlife response team so that the full impact of the oil spill can be determined.
Dogs should be kept away from the beaches, shoreline and sea.  If your cat or dog becomes oiled, contact your local vet.

Please note: some of these figures are estimates, and are subject to change.

ALL media enquiries:
0800 774 554 (0800 SPILL INFO)
spill.media@mnz.govt.nz

International media call:
+64 27 812 7013  or  +64 27 815 4849  or  +64 27 820 4165.

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