Salvage crews are back onboard the stricken container ship Rena at Astrolabe Reef and have started operations to remove oil from the ship.
Teams have worked overnight to build four platforms attached to the port side of Rena.
Rena. Image: NZDF.
These will be used to provide a flat platform to assist in pumping fuel.
Rena has leaked more than 300 tonnes of oil since becoming stuck on the reef, 25km off the coast of Tauranga.
Maritime New Zealand salvage unit manager Bruce Anderson has confirmed salvage operations have commenced with teams working to access the fuel tank on the port side.
“This is complexity upon complexity. The ship is still moving and grinding on the reef, we will be taking every opportunity that we can to get the fuel off.”
Salvage teams will firstly try to access the fuel tank in the hull internally by unbolting the hatch cover. If this is not possible, Bruce says teams will have to cut through the hull from the outside.
The pumping of oil is not expected to start today but Bruce says it will commence “as soon as possible”.
A strong wind warning is in place with westerlies increasing to 25-30 knots tonight, which Bruce says may hamper salvage operations.
Oil is expected to head east today with westerly winds pushing oil past Papamoa towards Whakatane.
There are reports oil has washed ashore on Whale Island but MNZ CEO Catherine Taylor says this is not confirmed.
Catherine says response equipment is on the way to Whakatane and volunteers have been organised to move into the Eastern Bay of Plenty area.
There is now 60km of oiled coastline from Mount Maunganui to Maketu and beach access is still restricted.
A total of 88 containers have fallen from Rena and 35 have been tagged and tracked at sea.
It is expected there will be more than 1000 people collecting oil from the beaches today, targeting the Papamoa and Mount Maunganui areas. More than 2000 people have registered to help so far.
MNZ is urging people not to touch the oil as they will take it from a contaminated area into a non-contaminated area, with reports of large amounts of oil in the Papamoa Domain car park and on the footpaths from Mount Maunganui main beach.
Catherine says the oil is very toxic with one Papamoa lady removing the numbers on her mobile phone after touching them with oil on her fingers.
“This oil can end up in the storm water drains, ending up back in the sea.”
A total of 95 tonnes of solid waste was taken to the transfer station.
Only six members of the Rena crew remain in Tauranga including the Captain and second officer, who have been charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk and will appear in Tauranga District Court next week. The remainder of the crew flew back to the Philippines yesterday.
People wanting to volunteer can go to www.boprc.govt.nz/oilspillvolunteers.
People can also register to volunteer at the Omanu, Papamoa and Mount Maunganui surf clubs.