WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A cargo ship grounded off the New Zealand coast since October has split in two, spilling sea containers and debris and sparking fears of a fresh oil spill, maritime officials said today.
The wreck of the Greek-owned Rena was described as New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster even before the rear section of the ship, lashed by pounding seas, broke away overnight. The ship previously spilled heavy fuel oil that fouled pristine North Island beaches and killed up to 20,000 seabirds, and despite salvage efforts nearly 400 tons of oil remain onboard.
Maritime officials said the front section of the wreck remains stuck in its original position, but the stern section slipped at least 100 feet away from the bow and is “moving significantly,” pounded by 19-foot swells.
The storm that split the vessel will continue for another three to four days.
Officials said up to 300 of the roughly 880 containers that had been on board were lost when the ship broke apart.
Oil has been seen leaking from the broken ship. Alex van Wijngaarden, on-scene commander for the national response team, said oil from the vessel could come ashore late tonight.
“While reports at this stage indicate there has not been a significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely,” he said.