New Zealand oil disaster 'inevitable'

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The Independent Online

Authorities in New Zealand admitted last night that the oil spill from a container ship threatening parts of the North Island's Bay of Plenty could become the country's worst maritime environmental disaster.

Rough weather has continued to hamper salvage crews trying to re-float the stricken Liberian-registered container ship Rena and stem the flow of oil from the 47,000-tonne ship.

The Environment Minister, Nick Smith, said the oil flow had increased fivefold since the vessel grounded on a reef last week, with 350 tonnes of heavy oil spilling from the hull yesterday. Significant amounts of oil would start washing up on beaches from today and in the coming weeks, he warned.

Mr Smith acknowledged that there was little that maritime agencies could do to prevent the disaster. "It is my view that the tragic events we are seeing unfolding were absolutely inevitable from the point that the Rena ran on to the reef in the early hours of Wednesday morning," he said.

Divers were expected to inspect the damaged hull of the crippled ship later today. While officials do not expect the vessel to break up yet, a significant amount of oil is expected to continue to spill into the Bay of Plenty over the next few days.

A team of clean-up specialists from Australia, Singapore and Britain have already joined the response team, with another 300 New Zealand defence personnel on standby.

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