Bunker oil recovered after small leak from tanker

20 Dec 2014, 10:28 AM

Authorities were today sweeping beaches in the Whangarei Harbour for residual traces of oil after successfully containing and recovering the bulk of a small leak linked to an overseas tanker at the Marsden Pt oil refinery.

Jim Lyle, Regional Harbourmaster for the Northland Regional Council, says authorities were alerted to a roughly 20-metre by one-metre oil slick by refinery staff about 3.45pm yesterday.

While the Liberian-registered tanker had been discharging a load of Kuwaiti crude oil at a refinery jetty at the time, subsequent inquiries revealed the oil was in fact bunker oil believed to have escaped over several hours from one of the more than 200-metre long vessel's bunker tanks.

Mr Lyle says it was difficult to quantify exactly how much oil had escaped in total, but it was thought to have been in the vicinity of several hundred litres. Oil from the suspect tank had since been pumped into another tank and Maritime New Zealand will now liaise with the vessel's owners as to next steps, including any repairs.

However, Mr Lyle says an oil spill response team, including several dozen refinery staff and about a dozen regional council workers had done a good job of containing and cleaning up most of the oil.

The refinery crews had done excellent work, quickly deploying sorbent booms which had contained most of the oil, preventing it from coming ashore at the public beach between the refinery and Northport. The oil skimming barge 'Taranui' had then been used to capture oil outside the boomed area.

What little oil had not been able to be recovered yesterday before darkness fell had been spread very thinly and most appears to have been broken up by subsequent wind and tide movements with little or no impact on the environment.

Mr Lyle says responders had been mobilised at first light again today and refinery and council staff in several boats, as well as the Taranui, had swept the harbour for traces of oil as a precaution in case any had come ashore.

Nothing significant had been found and the response was now being wound down.

Meanwhile, Mr Lyle says authorities will likely look to recover the cost of the response from the vessel's owners. It was too early to say whether any enforcement action would be taken in the wake of the incident.