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Removing containers from ship grounded on New Zealand reef could take months


15:37, November 14, 2011

WELLINGTON, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- The operation to remove the cargo containers from a ship grounded on a reef off the east coast of New Zealand could take months and the vessel could break up before the job is finished, the authorities said Monday.

A crane barge was moored at the stern of the Liberian-flagged Rena and was testing equipment before beginning the operation, Maritime New Zealand said.

The removal of most of the vessel's heavy fuel oil paved the way Sunday for the removal of the 1,280 containers.

MNZ salvage unit manager Arthur Jobard said testing of the barge's cranes could take one to two days.

"The salvors are taking this time to make sure that all the equipment and systems are ready and working properly before commencing operations. They also need good, calm weather to operate effectively, with safety being the top priority," Jobard said in a statement.

After the testing, the salvors would lower men in a cage to ready the containers, but they would also have to design a safe system for decoupling them, given the difficult lean of the ship, he said.

"Each set of containers will present its own unique challenges, " said Jobard.

"This means it is impossible to predict exactly how long it will take to safely remove all of the containers on board, but realistically, it is likely to take several months of patient and careful work."

Jobard said the 47,000-tonne Rena was still in an unstable position, which meant it was possible the vessel could break up before all containers were offloaded.

If that happened, the salvors and container retrieval company Braemar Howells were prepared to deal with them.

A larger crane barge, which would speed up the operation, was on its way from Singapore to assist in the operation and was due to arrive early next month.

While containers were being removed, remaining pockets of oil would also be extracted from accessible areas, he said.

On Sunday, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said salvors might only be able to remove up to six containers each day, depending on the weather and other conditions.

National on-scene commander Mick Courtnell said in the statement Monday that with no fresh oil being washed ashore, clean up teams would focus on removing "stubborn" oil from rocky areas.

"While getting the bulk of the oil off the Rena is a significant milestone, our job isn't done yet. We are making sure that are ready to respond if there is any spill of the oil left on the ship in this next phase of the operation," Courtnell said.

Two senior officers of the Rena have been charged in connection with its grounding on the Astrolabe Reef, about 12 nautical miles off the east of the North Island, near the port of Tauranga, on Oct. 5.

Oil from the Rena has killed an estimated 1,300 seabirds and more than 400 birds are being cared for at the oiled wildlife response center, including 60 New Zealand dotterel that were captured pre-emptively to protect the endangered species.

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