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Updated: October 23, 2011 19:14 IST

Fresh oil leak from crippled ship on New Zealand reef

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The Rena, grounded on the Astrolabe reef, off New Zealand's North Island. File photo
The Rena, grounded on the Astrolabe reef, off New Zealand's North Island. File photo

Divers ruled out on Sunday a major new fuel tank rupture on the crippled cargo ship stranded on a New Zealand reef after up to 10 tons of oil leak.

It was the first significant spill for 12 days, but apparently came from oil that had already leaked into the hull of the damaged vessel which ran aground 22 kilometres off the east coast port of Tauranga on October 5.

As salvage workers transferred oil from the port fuel tank to a tanker barge, divers confirmed that the submerged starboard tank, which holds 320 tonnes of fuel, remained intact.

The new spill was spotted in an observation flight over the vessel as officials lifted a ban on swimming off a 3-kilometre stretch of white sand beach near the port city of Tauranga.

The Maritime New Zealand agency overseeing the recovery operation sent four ships with booms to recover the oil and said it was moving offshore and not expected to reach the coast for two days.

“Inevitably there will be oil that we can’t recover. There is the possibility of a shoreline impact,” agency chief Rob Service said.

The calmest weather since it ran aground had enabled two days and two nights of continuous pumping of heavy fuel oil off the ship.

Salvage workers are trying to get all the oil off the ship, which is cracked through the middle and listing 21 degrees, before it breaks up and sinks.

It has already leaked more than 300 tons of oil onto the coast, polluting beaches and killing more than 1,300 seabirds.

By Sunday afternoon, Maritime New Zealand said 337 tons of oil had been transferred, leaving about 1,000 tons still on the Rena.

With New Zealanders enjoying a long weekend for the Labour Day holiday on Monday, the agency lifted a ban on swimming off the main beach at suburban Mount Maunganui.

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