Those danged scorpions are certainly buzzing around my brain today. I am on a rant about the oil spill in the Tauranga Harbour. I wrote about this a few days ago and this disaster is unfolding as we
The ship ran aground last Wednesday. It was a clear, calm, sunny spring day in the beautiful harbour. Astrolabe, the reef on which the boat foundered, is apparently well documented in all charts available for these waters. We are told the auto pilot was on at the time of the grounding. So, where was the crew? Questions are being asked about this and also whether the master had been drinking and where he was at the time.
We hear that the master has been arrested overnight and charged under Section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act. This covers “Dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products.” According to the Dominion Post (our local newspaper) he has been charged with “operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk” under the Act.
Photo - Dominion Post showing containers sliding into the ocean.
And now today we hear that some seventy containers have slipped into the sea; some are floating and some are sinking. These containers will certainly cause shipping hazards and no doubt the wreckage of these (and any other) containers will wash up onto the pristine beaches of Mount Manganui and Papamoa. These two beaches are already covered with oil and the wild life is greatly affected by the spill.
Attempts to remove the oil from the ship have been hampered because of the bad weather. And the weather forecast for the next few days isn’t good. Swells of up to 5metres are expected, with rain and high winds.
The crew was taken off the ship yesterday because of safety concerns.
So this disaster is unfolding in front of us. The Environment Minister, Nick Smith, has said that this was New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster. The ramifications of the master’s actions will resound around our country for many months and years.
The residents of Mount Maunganui where the oil has reached land, are taking matters into their own hands and cleaning up the beach, even though authorities have asked them not to. They are not prepared to wait for the official cleanup. A public health notice has been posted warning that the oil is toxic and should not come in contact with the skin. From the video it is clear that people are not heeding this warning and are removing the oil globules with their unprotected hands.
Massey University’s wildlife centre in Palmerston North is being temporarily shut down as all of its staff are helping the animals affected by the Tauranga oil spill. Speaking from the spill response centre in Mt Maunganui, wildlife centre director Dr Brett Gartrell said the centre would be closed from Friday, though two staff would stay until then to release animals there back to their homes.
Dr Gattrell said “Only common species had come in so far, but there were grave concerns for the endangered New Zealand dotterel. There were 60 pairs of the birds in the area, which made up a substantial part of their total population of 1700. He added that “They’re the most endangered birds that are in this area.”
The wildlife centre was working with the Department of Conservation to establish if there was any need to pre-emptively capture the birds to avoid oiling.
I understand from my blogging friends that not much has been reported about this around the world. Yesterday on BBC News there was a clip (from Sydney, Australia) about it. But it is a major disaster and I shall continue to keep you updated on it as it unfolds.