Storm raises risk of New Zealand oil disaster

Bad weather is hindering attempts to stop oil washing ashore from a container ship which struck a reef off New Zealand's North Island last week.

The vessel, which ran aground in the environmentally sensitive Bay of Plenty, has 1,700 tonnes of fuel oil and 70 tonnes of marine diesel on board. Fist-sized clumps of oil have already started washing up on beaches, killing wildlife including sea birds, and threatening blue penguins.

Authorities warned that if the 47,000-tonne ship sank and spewed all its oil into the bay, New Zealand would suffer its greatest marine pollution disaster in decades. Attempts to extract the 10,700 barrels of oil over the weekend were halted yesterday because of forecast heavy swells and gale-force winds.

Salvage experts on board the Liberian-flagged Rena were trying to establish the danger of it breaking up.