New Zealand Salvage Crews Return to Grounded Ship

Posted October 19th, 2011 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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A salvage crew Wednesday reboarded a cargo ship that has been spilling oil since it grounded on a reef off the New Zealand coast almost two weeks ago.

The four-man crew boarded the Liberian-flagged cargo ship Rena to begin preparing equipment to pump at least 1,200 tons of heavy fuel oil still remaining in the ship's tanks. Officials with Maritime New Zealand say special pumps have been installed on the ship to speed up the rate of extraction.

The Rena has been battered by strong winds and heavy waves that have led to fears the ship will break apart. The bad weather forced the salvage crew to suspend operations Tuesday. Officials hope to resume the extraction on Thursday.

About 300 tons of fuel oil has spilled from the ship into the Bay of Plenty and onto nearby beaches, killing about 1,300 birds.

The captain of the Rena and his navigation officer, both of them Philippine nationals, appeared again Wednesday in a courtroom in the port city of Tauranga. They are charged with operating a vessel in a way that caused unnecessary risk, which carries a maximum penalty of $7,800 or 12 months in prison.

The judge ordered the men's identities be withheld from the public over concerns for their safety.