A 47,000 tonne container vessel “Rena” hit Astrolabe Reef off New Zealand’s North Island about 22 kilometres off the coast of Tauranga leaking oil into the sea. The oil leak from the Liberian-flagged freighter has spread over an area of four kilometers and if the ship breaks up, it could release 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the Bay of Plenty, home to whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a variety of other birds.
The Astrolabe Reef is covered with colourful sponges and anemones, according to the Department of Conservation, with seals and gamefish such as marlin common in surrounding waters. Maritime authorities have said they are treating birds including little blue penguins brought in covered with oil. Animal welfare workers said the disaster had struck in the middle of breeding season for native birds on the bay.
New Zealand navy and salvage ships are working to pump off the ship’s fuel oil and move it to safety before attempting to free the ship. Dispersants sprayed from the air on to the slick have not worked and bad weather is expected to hamper the containment effort.