WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Forecasts of heavy ocean swells yesterday thwarted crews trying to pull oil from a leaking ship stuck on a reef off New Zealand, as fist-sized clumps of the fuel started turning up on a popular surfers’ beach.
The Rena has been foundering since it ran aground last Wednesday about 14 miles from Tauranga Harbour, and the government has demanded to know why the ship crashed into the well-charted reef in calm weather.
The ship owner, Greece-based Costamare Inc., said it is cooperating with authorities in looking into the accident and working to minimize environmental damage. It has not offered any explanation for the grounding.
The 775-foot ship has been leaking fuel, leading to fears it could cause an environmental disaster if it breaks apart. Marine crews began an operation Sunday to extract up to 1,700 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from the stricken ship. But they had to halt the pumping yesterday after managing to remove just 10 metric tons.
Clumps of the oil were found at Mount Maunganui beach, a favorite spot for surfers, according to Maritime New Zealand, the agency responsible for shipping in the region. The beach is on New Zealand’s North Island, about 100 miles southeast of Auckland. The agency believes the ship has another 200 tons of diesel on board. So far, an estimated 30 tons of oil or fuel have leaked into the Bay of Plenty.
Any spill would be small in comparison with such disasters as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, which dumped an estimated 262,000 barrels of crude oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.