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Diesel Recovery From Stricken Boat 'Difficult'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

20 August 2008 - Officials are facing an "extremely difficult" task trying to recover thousands of litres of diesel on board a wooden-hulled fishing boat aground in the surf at Waipapakauri, on Ninety Mile Beach.

The 22-metre, Northland-based Kumea II ran aground on Monday evening a few hours after its crew were forced to abandon it when it began taking on water about three nautical miles off Shipwreck Bay, Ahipara.

An as-yet undetermined amount of the estimated 8000 litres of diesel in two large tanks aboard the vessel when it ran aground has since escaped.

Officials' attempts to recover the remaining fuel are being hampered by the fact the Kumea II is stuck on its side in the surf line, giving them an extremely narrow window of opportunity to gain access to the boat - and the fuel - each day.

Jim Lyle, the Northland Regional Council's Opua-based Deputy Regional Harbourmaster, says effectively officials can gain access to the stricken vessel for only about one hour at a time on the low tides at the beginning and end of the day.

He says the initial focus has to be the safe removal of any remaining diesel as well as other lubricants and engine oils to try to minimise potential environmental harm but this is an extremely difficult task in the circumstances.

However, recovery plans are in place and several Kaitaia and Opua-based Regional Council staff - together with the vessel's Auckland-based insurance assessor _ hope to be able to get back on board the Kumea II about 4pm today to recover as many contaminants as possible.

Mr Lyle says the 24-year-old wooden-hulled vessel is strong and at this stage remains intact despite having been battered by the surf through several tidal cycles since running aground.

He says lifting gear will be on-site at the beach this afternoon but the grounding site and size of the vessel - together with the fact it is now filled with tonnes of water and sand - may make recovery in one piece difficult.

Mr Lyle says locals have been helping officials recover debris - including the vessel's buoys and fish bins - from the beach.

Regional Council staff have also been recovering diesel-soaked ropes and other contaminated materials from the vessel itself and cleaning up other matter from the beach.

He says while the escape of any diesel from the vessel is a concern, the light nature of diesel compared to other oils means it breaks up very quickly in the rough seas in the area and is unlikely to cause any lasting environmental damage.

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