Leaking oil blackens New Zealand beaches

The environmental disaster threatening miles of pristine beaches along New Zealand's north coast worsened yesterday, as hundreds of tonnes of oil continued to leak from the stricken container ship grounded on a reef.

The most immediate concern was for marine life in the Bay of Plenty. "We saw a lot of oily penguins actually in the water," said Rebecca Bird, director of the WWF's New Zealand marine programme. "We just couldn't get to them. That was quite heartbreaking."

Some of North Island's white beaches turned black. More than 50 tonnes of oil from the Liberian-flagged Rena was recovered along 16 miles of sand yesterday, only to be replaced by more dark sludge with each high tide. A Maritime New Zealand spokesman said: "We will go in day by day until this is over."