Liberian-flagged Rena container ship

Oil recovery from ship halted by weather in New Zealand

Salvage teams pumping oil from the Rena container ship off the New Zealand coast have been forced to stop due to rough weather.

The Rena has been stuck for nearly two weeks on a reef 14 miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, in what has become the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

The ship has already spilled about 350 tonnes of thick, toxic fuel and some of its hundreds of containers into the sea.

Winds gusting up to 65 kph and sea swells as high as 4 metres has forced the evacuation of salvage teams.

"The forecast seems to suggest that the winds will kick around to the west which should make things slightly calmer, so fingers crossed they should be back on the job in the near future," said Svitzer Salvage spokesman Matthew Watson.

So far around 90 tonnes of the estimated 1,300 tonnes of the oil on board have been pumped on to a barge.

Bad weather could possibly send the stern section, containing more than 1,000 tonnes of oil, tumbling into 60 metres of water.

"The ship is stable and remains in the same condition as it was yesterday - with cracks down each side but is still together in one piece," said Andrew Berry of Maritime NZ, the government agency which supervises the shipping industry.

A small amount of oil had escaped from the ship overnight during the rougher weather, but winds were blowing it away from the shore and dispersing it.

Beaches have been largely cleaned up by thousands of volunteers, soldiers and specialists.

Oil has washed up along about 60 kms of the coast, which is popular with surfers and fishermen and nearly 1,300 birds have died in the spill.

The ship's captain and second officer, both from the Philippines, are due to reappear in court this week on charges of operating the 47,320 tonne ship in a dangerous manner.

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