A container ship stuck on a reef off New Zealand is now spilling “significant” new amounts of oil, according to officials.
More than 30 salvage experts who were on cargo ship Rena have now been taken off after the vessel moved position in heavy seas.
The ship was evacuated with the help of nearby boats, including navy ships.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said the Rena had spewed an additional 140 to 385 tons of oil into the Bay of Plenty.
This was far more than the initial spill of more than 20 tons, which has already started appearing on beaches in the environmentally sensitive area.
“The ship has sustained some damage from current movements and there is a significant amount of oil leaking from the vessel,” said a spokesperson.
Officials have warned New Zealand faces its worst maritime pollution disaster in decades if the Rena breaks up on the reef and releases all of its nearly 1,900 tons of heavy fuel oil into the bay.
Covers have now been installed on fuel tanks to limit leakage
Catherine Taylor, MNZ director, said the Liberian-flagged vessel appeared stable but added: “The weather forecast is not good.
“Things are changing all the time, the weather has not worked for us, it’s worked against us and we’re being precautionary and ensuring we keep people safe first.”
Covers have been installed on the ship’s fuel tanks in an attempt to limit leakage if the Rena ends up on the sea bed.
Blobs of toxic oil began to wash up on beaches on Monday. The clean-up process has now begun along the coastline, but people are being warned more pollution along beaches is inevitable.
The spill has already killed a number of sea birds, with seven Little Blue penguins and two shags receiving treatment at wildlife rescue centres after being found covered in oil.
Authorities have urged residents to stay away from the oil, but many have ignored the advice and formed their own clean-up teams, donning rubber gloves and shovelling the oil into plastic bags.
Some 250 people, including specialists from Australia, Britain, Holland and Singapore, have joined the oil slick response team, with 300 defence personnel on standby and expected to help with the shoreline clean-up.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said on Monday that oil could wash up on the coast for weeks to come.