An oil spill is threatening one of the most pristine jewels in New Zealand’s crown of natural wonders, the Bay of Plenty.
A Liberian-flagged container ship, the Rena, ran aground on the Astrolabe reef on Wednesday, and there are now fears it could break in half, releasing nearly 2,000 tonnes of fuel. The 30 tonnes leaked so far have formed a slick five kilometres long.
Heavy weather is forecast for Monday, which would halt the salvage operation to pump the fuel off the ship, and could break its back.
The spill comes during breeding season for the region’s native birds, including the Little Blue penguin. The Bay of Plenty is also home to species of whale, dolphin and seals.
Two inquiries are under way as to how the Rena could have hit the well-charted reef in calm seas at night at full speed. Some of the 2,100 containers on board also contain hazardous materials.