Fictional Tutukaka spill exercises oil spill responders

28 Apr 2023, 8:16 AM

Two dozen Northland Regional Council staff have taken part in a practical exercise based around a fictional oil spill from a commercial fishing vessel running aground on a rock in the Tutukaka Harbour.

‘Exercise Red Rock Tutukaka’ saw council staff – watched over by an observer from Maritime New Zealand – mobilise, set up an Emergency Operations Centre and take to the water in two boats as part of the response on Thursday, 27 April.

Regional councillor Amy Macdonald, who represents the council’s Coastal Central General constituency (which includes Tutukaka), says oil spill exercises are an important way for those who respond to real spills to keep their skills sharp.

“Typically, the council holds about two exercises a year, one a desk top exercise and the other ‘hands on’ at a varying location.

She says the latest exercise had been based on a fictional commercial fishing vessel that becomes badly damaged after running aground on Tutukaka Harbour’s Red Rock, spilling lubricating oil from a 900-litre container on deck. The make-believe vessel also had seven tonnes of fuel in its tanks and held 200 litres of hydraulic oil for its hydraulic system.

Regional Harbourmaster Jim Lyle says in response to the ‘spill’ the council had mobilised two vessels, its 16-metre workboat Waikare and the smaller 5.8m Karetu, as well as deploying staff and equipment including a drone, booms, skimmers and other equipment.

Also tested were how the council would respond to potentially oiled marine life and inform other stakeholders and the community, including its iwi partners, about the incident.

Mr Lyle says the council has about 30 staff who are trained to deal with oil spills at a regional level. A regional spill response could also involve staff from Northport, Channel Infrastructure and North Tugz. Larger spills that the council and those organisations could not deal with alone would see staff and contractors from other agencies and regions, including Maritime NZ, called in.

Over the course of a normal year, Mr Lyle says council staff would typically respond to about 30 smaller spills (mainly involving diesel) and ranging from refueling incidents and bilge discharges to sunken vessels.

The last big Northland response had been a late 2015 spill from the large multi-purpose overseas cargo ship ‘Ningpo’, where several tonnes of black fuel oil had escaped into the sea at Marsden Pt.

Mr Lyle says the fact Northland was home to a large port (Northport) and a large oil transfer site at Marsden Pt meant it was considered more at risk of an oil spill than many other parts of the country.

He was grateful to Tutukaka Marina which had provided facilities for the exercise.

Aerial shot of two boats deploying a boom.

Drone footage of NRC vessels deploying booms to contain a fictional oil spill off Tutukaka Thursday, 27 April.