Cracked cargo ship
(AP) — A cargo ship that has spilled hundreds of tons of oil since striking a reef off New Zealand's coast appeared to be breaking up in heavy seas, as its captain faced criminal charges in court Wednesday.
A vertical crack was apparent from the deck to the waterline of the Liberian-flagged Rena, which ran aground Oct. 5 on Astrolabe Reef, 14 miles (22 kilometers) from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand's North Island. About 70 containers have fallen off the deck of the 775-foot (236-meter) vessel as it has listed increasingly in the worsening ocean conditions, according to Associated Press.
Maritime New Zealand, which is managing the emergency response, described the crack as a "substantial structural failure" and warned that the stern may break away. Three tug boats were mobilized to hold the stern on the reef while efforts are made to remove the oil from the ship, or to tow the stern to shallow water, the agency said in a statement.
Weather on the reef was terrible Wednesday, with swells up to 16 feet (5 meters), Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Jones told The Associated Press. The brutal conditions were making it impossible for a salvage crew to board the ship, he said. Without the salvage crew aboard, oil cannot be pumped out of the ship.
"It's appalling," Jones said of the weather. "Everything is still in a holding pattern."
Forecasters were predicting the swells would ease to 6 feet (2 meters) by Thursday, at which point salvage crews might be able to try to board the ship, Jones said.
The piles of containers that remain on deck have continued to move, making it dangerous for salvage crews to work on board. Six vessels have been mobilized to intercept the drifting containers and other debris in the water.
There were 1,368 containers on board, 11 of which contained hazardous substances, the maritime agency said. The containers with hazardous materials were not among the 70 that had fallen overboard, Jones said. Still, it is highly likely that more containers will topple off because of the rough weather and the ship's steep list, he said.
The 44-year-old Filipino captain, whose name has not been revealed publicly, was charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk and was released on bail Wednesday at Tauranga District Court. The ship's second officer is to face a similar charge on Thursday.