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New Zealand Closes Beaches Over Oil Spill

Oil spill continues to threaten New Zealand's tourist beaches

Oct 13, 2011

Popular tourist beaches in northern New Zealand have been closed after oil leaking from a stranded cargo ship began washing up on the shore.

The oil spill caused by the stricken container ship Rena is currently heading towards the southern end of Matakana island in the Bay of Plenty.
Clumps of oil have already been found on Mount Maunganui beach on the country’s North Island, and are expected to reach Tauranga port and beaches south of Maketu.

Officials have closed the affected beaches and bathers have been warned to stay away from the shore.

The 47,000-tonne ship hit the Astrolabe Reef off the North Island town of Tauranga last Wednesday.

Officials believe up to 300 tonnes of oil could have spilled into the sea so far. It is feared that all of the 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board could be spilled if the ship breaks up in bad weather.

Work to extract oil from the vessel was called off yesterday because of the difficult conditions.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) says more oil is expected to be washed ashore in coming days.

A MNZ spokesperson says: ‚ÄėWe are expecting oil to wash up on the shoreline south of Mount Maunganui, but we don't know how much.

‚ÄėThe weather is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so we are working around the clock to remove the oil.'

MNZ warned tourists to stay off the beaches and ‚Äėnot to touch the oil or attempt to clean up the oil as it is toxic‚Äô.

The oil leak has been branded the country‚Äôs worst maritime environmental disaster by the New Zealand government and Environment Minister Nick Smith has warned that the situation is going to get ‚Äėsignificantly worse‚Äô in coming days.

Around 200 people are currently involved in the salvage operation and 300 military personnel are on stand-by to clean up beaches.

They are battling to save local marine wildlife affected by the oil spill, including dolphins, whales and blue penguins.
The coastline is a favourite spot for surfers and is noted for its fishing, diving and aquatic wildlife.
The owners of the ship, Greece-based Costamare, say they are 'cooperating fully with local authorities' and were making every effort to 'control and minimise the environmental consequences of this incident'.

The company has not offered any explanation for the grounding.

Oil spill continues to threaten New Zealand's tourist beaches
Containers from Rena float next to it after falling from the deck / Image via


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