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Published: 2006-07-14 00:00:00

A mussel barge that sank near Te Kouma boat ramp spilling diesel into the Coromandel Harbour has been successfully re-floated with no further spillage.

An aerial survey of the harbour conducted by Environment Waikato at noon today showed at least 500 litres of diesel had spilt into the sea.

“The slick was very small in terms of oil spills and is now hardly visible from the air,” said Environment Waikato emergency management officer Jan Hania.

The diesel slick is now heading out to sea and Environment Waikato scientists believe it will have minimal impact on marine life and the environment.

The council has now stood down its emergency response team, but will continue to monitor the area over the next few days.

Investigations into the circumstances surrounding the incident will be ongoing.

12.37pm, 14 July 2006

Following the visual inspection of the extent of the diesel spill into the Coromandel harbour today, and new information that has come to hand throughout the morning, Environment Waikato has revised its estimate of the amount of diesel to approximately 500-1000 litres.

11.24am, 14 July 2006

A mussel barge carrying about 10,000 litres of diesel has sunk near the Te Kouma boat ramp in Coromandel Harbour.

It is believed about 3-4000 litres of diesel has escaped from the barge. However, divers called in this morning have sealed all leaks to prevent more diesel entering the water.

Environment Waikato is assembling a response team of experts at the scene and is working with the company responsible, Maritime New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.

The council will be sending up an aircraft to ascertain the extent of the spill and has declared a Tier 2 response because of the amount of diesel involved.

However Environment Waikato emergency management officer Adam Munro said impacts on people and the environment were likely to be minimal.

“Because the spill is unlikely to cause damage to marine wildlife – including nearby oyster and mussel farms – or the environment, the best response is to allow the diesel to break up naturally, but we will continue to monitor the situation,” he said.

“The ocean contains bacteria that break down the molecular structure of oil into less complex substances that are not hazardous.

“We will be deploying a team of staff to monitor the shoreline and they use absorbent pads and pillows to soak up any concentrated pockets of diesel that form near the beach. This will accelerate the clean-up process.

“Using boats to churn up the water can also help with the breakdown process, and that’s an option we’re considering – or we may simply to let the natural action of the waves do the job.”

Diesel is a very light form of oil, which is non-flammable and non-volatile on water. It spreads out very thinly over the surface of the water, appearing as a yellow-green sheen.

Conditions in the harbour are flat and calm at present, which may prolong the amount of time it takes for the diesel to disperse. However, 20-knot south-easterly winds forecast for later today should speed the breakdown process.

It is likely some diesel will be visible in the harbour for the next 24-48 hours.

It is unlikely birds will be affected by the diesel spill. However, if any member of the public does find an oiled bird, they are advised to call Environment Waikato on 0800 800 401.