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November 23rd, 2011

New Zealand Struggles to Contain Worst Maritime Oil Spill

Maritime attorneys and environmental groups will not quickly forget last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion and the resulting spill. In New Zealand, the government is struggling to contain that country’s biggest oil spill , resulting after a maritime accident earlier this month.

The Liberia-flagged Rena ran aground on October 5 about 22 km from Tauranga Harbor. The accident occurred during perfectly calm weather, and the government has demanded answers about the causes of the accident. While maritime lawyers often come across accidents like this, very few involve a vessel traveling through calm waters in perfect weather and colliding against well-documented reefs. New Zealand authorities seem to believe that the vessel was traveling at very high speeds. Investigations into the accident are continuing.

Soon after the accident, it became evident that the problems were just beginning. Hundreds of tons of fuel quickly spilled from the hull of the vessel. The vessel had about 1700 tons of oil and 200 tons of diesel on board at the time of the accident.

Large clumps of heavy oil from the tanker have ended up on beaches along the coastline on New Zealand’s North Island. Further, more than 50 birds have been found dead, and many birds have been found with oil on their feathers. According to New Zealand’s environment minister, this is the worst environmental maritime disaster in New Zealand, and cleanup efforts could take several weeks.

Salvage operations have been hindered by the weather that has kept crews away from the ship. The waves have been increasing to up to 3 m, and crewmembers had to abandon ship. The Greece-based shipping company that owns the vessel has said that it is co-operating with authorities, in order to minimize the environmental impact of this disaster.

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