Monday, October 10, 2011

New Zealand fears oil spill disaster: Could cause damage for "decades"

New Zealand is bracing for an environmental disaster amid fears that a container ship stranded off the North Island could break up and spill oil into the pristine Bay of Plenty, the environment minister has said.

Nick Smith told local media on Friday that the accident "has the potential to be New Zealand's most significant maritime pollution disaster in decades".

The 47,000 tonne container vessel Rena, which hit a reef off the coast of Tauranga earlier this week, has already created an oil slick more than five-kilometres long that has killed a number of sea birds.

It is not known why the ship ran aground in the early hours of Wednesday morning. None of the 25-man crew were injured in the accident.

Officials said the pollution would be far worse if the ship broke up on the Astrolabe Reef, releasing the 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board into a marine environment that is home to whales, dolphins, seals and penguins. more