New Zealand oil spill
An oil spill is sullying the coastline of New Zealand. Image: Flickr / babasteve / CC-BY

On Oct. 5, the Costamare-owned ship Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef near New Zealand. The ship has been leaking oil, and rough seas have continued to jostle the ship. This spill has grown to the point it is the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s history.

The Rena crash

About 14 miles outside Tauranga Harbor in New Zealand lies the Astrolabe Reef. The reef is very well-mapped, well-charted and well-known. Despite the mapping, the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned ship Rena ran aground in calm seas. The ship’s hull broke in the water, releasing more than 150 metric tons of heavy oil and diesel fuel into the water and onto the shores of New Zealand. The owner of the ship, Costamare, has not yet said why the ship ran aground, but claims to be “cooperating with authorities.”

Rough seas complicate recovery

Though it was a day of calm seas when the Rena ran aground, the days since have been very rough. Swells around the ship have gotten between seven and 10 feet tall. The crew of the ship has been evacuated, and recovery crews have had to be evacuated. Without crews on the ship, the remaining oil cannot be pumped out into waiting tankers. Several times, the ship has shifted off the reef, spilling even more oil into the seas. Current estimates are that between 150 and 390 metric tons of heavy oil and diesel fuel have been released into the water. The 775-foot ship is reported to be carrying about 1,900 metric tons of oil and diesel total.

Danger of a breakup

The oil the ship is spilling into seawater is not the only item of concern on the large container ship. Divers are slated to inspect hull damage of the Rena on Wednesday, if the seas calm enough for divers to be able to safely dive near the ship. If the ship does break up in rough seas, not only will most of the oil dump into the sea, the shipping containers will also end up in the water. There are four containers of ferrosilicon on the ship, which slowly produces hydrogen when it is in contact with water. Officials hope to remove these containers as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the oil that has already spilled is washing up on New Zealand shores.

Sources

BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15266790
Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/11/new-zealand-oil-spill-worst-maritime-disaster?newsfeed=true
ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/nz-spill-worst-environmental-sea-disaster-14710327
Cosmic Log: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/11/8261445-oil-cleanup-teams-win-13-million

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