NZ salvage teams resume pumping oil from stricken ship

Bruce Anderson, Maritime New Zealand salvage manager said "it's a vessel dying"

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Salvage crews have resumed pumping fuel from a stricken cargo ship listing badly on a reef off the northern coast of New Zealand.

An earlier attempt to remove the remaining fuel from the leaking Rena was abandoned a week ago due to bad weather.

Forecasts predict further poor weather for Monday night.

More than 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil have spilled into the water already, killing more than 1,000 sea birds.

The Greek-owned and Liberian-flagged cargo ship ran aground on 5 October on Astrolabe Reef, 22km (14 miles) from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand's North Island.

Environmentalists have warned of disaster if all 1,700 tonnes of oil and 200 tonnes of diesel held on board spill from the vessel.

'On her knees'

Start Quote

It will be a long, slow and steady process”

End Quote Andrew Berry MNZ Salvage Unit

So far, crews have managed to pump about 34 tons of fuel from the 236-metre (775-foot) ship, according to AP news agency.

Work resumed on Sunday night, but salvage teams said the toxic fumes, thickness of the oil and the fragility of the ship meant that progress was slow.

"We will be continuing to pump oil for as long as we possibly can today," said MNZ Salvage Unit Manager Andrew Berry.

"The key point is that every drop of oil that we can get off the ship is one less drop that can potentially end up in the environment, but it will be a long, slow and steady process," he added.

The ship's hull is cracked and the ship could break up or slip from the reef at any time, experts say.

Workers clean up debris washed ashore from the stricken Monrovia-flagged container ship "Rena", on Mount Maunganui beach near Tauranga on October 17, 2011 Hundreds of people are helping with the clean-up operation

"That ship is very, very sick. She is fractured, she is broken, she is on her knees," Matt Watson of the Svitzer salvage company told Radio New Zealand, AP reports.

Oil and debris from the boat, including some shipping containers, have washed up along a 60km section of the coast and a clean-up operation is under way.

Some 1,000 people - including soldiers, wildlife experts and residents - have joined the operation and authorities say some 3,000 in total have volunteered to help.

About 1,250 sea birds have died in the spill.

An investigation is under way as to how the accident happened on a well-marked reef in calm weather.

The ship's Filipino captain and second officer have been charged over the incident.

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