Between 30 and 70 containers have fallen from the MV Rena which is grounded on the Astrolabe reef near Tauranga harbour.
The SMC asked an international expert in oil spills on the potential hazards posed by the loose containers.
Dr. Simon Boxall, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, comments:
“The main concern now is securing the containers on the ship. A couple of years ago the container ship Napoli ran aground off Devon and Dorset in England and lost a significant number of containers. These are potentially more worrying now than the fuel oil leaking from the ship. Once they break away from the ship they present a hazard to shipping – often floating just below the surface and difficult to see and track until they finally fill with water and sink. Containers can remain afloat for weeks at a time. There should also be concern as to the contents of the containers. This could range from household good to chemicals and in the case of Napoli there were several tonnes of herbicides amongst other materials.
“The emergency will remain until the vessel is finally towed to safe haven.”
On the growing oil spill:
“The volumes of oil have evidently increased over the past two days but even at 350 tonnes, when this is 12km offshore the damage will be short term. The focus should be on securing the ship and its cargo and dealing with oil as and when it reaches shore. There will be blobs of material (emulsified oil we often call mousse) on the beach which will require mechanical collection by hand.”
On use of dispersant Corexit 9500:
Scientists will argue over the use of dispersants, for and against, but given the one used in this case the discussion is rather academic. [That is because Corexit 9500] is one of the less toxic dispersants and the volume used so far (under two tonnes) should not cause undue concern.”