Tauranga Oil Spill, New Zealand’s Worst Maritime Disaster Worsens

As I wrote previously about the oil spill at Tauranga from the ship Rena, this is one of New Zealand’s worst environmental disasters. It has now been declared to be the worst Maritime disaster in New Zealand. The Tauranga oil spill is horrid.

Oil is washing up on the beaches near Tauranga, especially at Papamoa Beach, which is very near where Andrew and I sat eating our lunch and watching the parasurfers. Some of the oil is able to be removed by hand, but in the end, hundreds, if not thousands, of tonnes of sand will have to be hauled away to have the oil removed from it. Over one hundred kilometres (60 miles) of coastline are threatened by this oil spill. More than a thousand people are expected at the beaches today to help with the cleanup. Cleanup costs so far amount to more than $12,000,000 ($9.4 million US).

Little Blue Penguin, World's Smallest Penguin

Little Blue Penguin (Photo from Wikipedia)

With 350 tonnes of oil spilled into the ocean near Tauranga, wildlife was sure to be affected. And indeed, more than one thousand birds have died so far as a result of the oil spill, including many little blue penguins, the world’s smallest penguin. In addition to this, there is bound to be a sizable impact on fish and other underwater life.

There is a large crack in the hull of the ship Rena, which threatens to break the ship in two. If this happens, the remaining two oil tanks, containing an additional 1350 tonnes of oil, could rupture and spill. Already, with 350 tonnes of oil spilled, this is New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. What will they call it if the rest of the oil is spilled? Yikes.

The spill is of heavy fuel oil (HFO) 380, which is hazardous to humans, as well as to wildlife. Coming into contact with the oil can cause rashes, and breathing the fumes from it might possibly make a person ill, though unlikely. HFO 380 is what remains when the lighter oil products (petrol, diesel, jet fuel, etc.) have been removed from oil. Besides the oil, there are 22 containers on the ship containing other hazardous materials. Of the nearly 1400 containers on the ship, nearly ninety have fallen off, twenty of which have washed up on shore.

The good news is that with the storm passing soon, the pumping out of remaining oil into barges will recommence. The salvage operations will proceed in three phases: remove the oil, remove the containers, and then haul away the ship itself.

The Coromandel Peninsula, where we live, should not be affected by this oil spill, but there are many popular local and tourist beaches that will be affected, as well as many wildlife losses. You can follow the story at the New Zealand Herald’s website.


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