Skip to main content

Major oil spills around New Zealand

The rugged nature of New Zealand's coastline and surrounding seas has been the cause of many ships foundering and/or being wrecked. Many of these incidents caused oil spills.

Past incidents (such as the Waihine, Mikhail Lermontov, Jody F Millennium), have shaped the way New Zealand responds to major maritime incidents.

There have also been a number of 'near misses' around the coastline that remind us of the continual threat to the environment.

New Zealand marine oil spills since 1990

The following list includes the more significant marine oil spills that occurred around New Zealand since 1990.

  • 1998 Don Wong 529 – Stewart Island (with 400 tonnes of automotive gas oil spilled)
  • 1999 Rotoma – Poor Knights Island (oily bilge discharge of approx 7 tonnes spilled)
  • 2000 Sea Fresh – Chatham Islands (60 tonnes of diesel spilled)
  • 2002 Jody F Millennium – Gisborne (25 tonnes of fuel oil spilled)
  • 2002 Tai Ping – Bluff (no oil spilled)
  • 2011 Rena – Tauranga (approx 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled)

As part of international cooperative agreements, New Zealand has also provided personnel to assist with oil spills overseas. The most recent was the provision of support to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) during their response to the 2009 Pacific Adventurer oil spill off the coast of Brisbane, Queensland.

Recent assistance has also been provided in gathering evidence to assist AMSA in prosecuting ships discharging oil into the maritime environment.

Jody F Millennium grounding and oil spill response

On the evening of Wednesday 6 February 2002, huge swells caused the log ship Jody F Millennium (owned by Japanese company Soki Kisen but chartered to a Korean company and registered in Panama) to break free from several of her moorings in the Gisborne harbour.

Tugs went to her assistance and attempted to hold the ship steady so she could be secured again to the wharf. However the situation became too unsafe for the people involved, the Jody F Millennium and the wharf itself. It was decided that the best place for her was back out at sea.

As the ship left the harbour, she was hit by the heavy swell on her side and ran aground on the beach. The incident was reported to the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA), now Maritime New Zealand, at 10pm on Wednesday, 6 February.

A 'Tier 3' oil spill response was declared at 4am on Thursday, 7 February in the event that the ship might leak oil, though there were no reports of spills at that stage.

The main focus of the MSA was the removal of the threat of an oil spill and the management and clean-up of any pollution arising from an oil spill. A separate section of the MSA also launched a full investigation into the grounding to find out what happened and consider whether any further action should betaken.

The salvor, not the MSA, was responsible for any salvage required and the ship’s owners were liable for any clean-up costs. When the salvor was able to get a team on board, they immediately began a detailed hydrographic survey of the seabed. This was conducted under and all around the ship to find out how she was lying,
what sand had built up around her and how a course out of her position might be charted. A dive team was sent below to assess damage to her hull, and possible options for the salvage plan were developed.

At the same time, the salvor was ordering powerful ocean-going tugs that were capable of towing the Jody F Millennium out. The Gisborne Port tugs were too small to be able to do this and could not operate in rough seas. The Pacific Chieftain immediately began steaming from New Plymouth (a three-day journey) and the SeaTow from Picton. A third tug was despatched from Melbourne and arrived in Gisborne on Sunday 17 February .

The salvor scoured the country's ports looking for large sea anchors (weighing between 5–10 tonnes). Two were located in Picton and the dispatch arranged. Thirty tonnes of heavy salvage equipment (ropes, tackle and so forth) was assembled in Australia and airfreight arranged for its transport to Gisborne. As information came in from the surveys and dives, salvage options were calculated. This is a very intensive and complex exercise, involving crucial and painstaking calculations of how heavy the ship would need to be to move it, what load can be applied by the tugs, which direction they must pull from and how strongly, how the sea state, winds and tides might affect the operation and so on.

The salvage plan must also be approved by the MSA whose prime interest is in the fate of the oil on board and whether it can be made safe.

Additional oil spill equipment, including dispersant, to add to the equipment already in Gisborne was ordered.

An Air Force C130 Hercules and trucks were used to deliver the extra equipment, both from the MSA Oil Spill Centre in Auckland and other surrounding regions.

The Jody F Millennium confirmed an oil spill and in response, booms were deployed across the harbour entrance and the Waikanae Cut to try and prevent the oil coming up-river.

Testing of alternative dispersants was arranged and a helicopter fitted with spraying equipment began spraying larger areas of oil. The salvor worked to identify the source of the spill and what could be done to pump out the affected oil tank.

On Saturday and Sunday spraying of dispersants continued from dawn until dusk. Initial beach clean-up work was carried out by a grader and on Monday specialist teams were deployed to clean up the beaches manually.

When she ran aground, the Jody F Millennium held 641 tonnes of intermediate fuel oil (HFO 380) plus 63 tonnes of marine diesel to power her generators and other equipment and about 20 tonnes of lubricating oils.

The fuel oil taken off the ship was put in inflatable barges and transferred to the HMNZS Endeavour and storage tanks at the port.

An estimated 25 tonnes of fuel oil had leaked out. This affected an area of about 8km of coastline from Tuahine Point to 300 metres along the coast, about opposite Gisborne Airport.

Oil came ashore mainly on Waikanae Beach, Midway Beach, Kaiti Beach, the log storage area north of the port and Sponge Bay. Small amounts came ashore on beaches further north and south.

About 30 cubic metres of oil and sand mixed were collected. Another 600–800 litres of oil was collected from the boom collection areas.

The contaminated sand and the collected oil went to waste disposal sites in Auckland and Napier.

View images of the Jody F Millennium incident

Tai Ping grounding and oil spill response

Tai Ping, a Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier with a crew of 23 and 9,500 tonnes of urea fertiliser aboard, ran aground at Tiwai Point near the entrance to Bluff Harbour on the morning of 8 October, 2002.

The Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) declared a Tier 3 emergency response following the grounding of the vessel, on the basis of the large volumes of fuel oil carried on board and the risk of a potential spill.

By declaring a Tier 3 emergency, the MSA was able to plan for a major pollution response, should there be a significant oil spill from the vessel.

Booms were set up around the vessel to contain any leakage while equipment was deployed to be close at hand in case a clean-up was needed.

An oiled wildlife holding facility was also set up just in case it was required.

After being grounded for nine days, the vessel was refloated safely and not a drop of oil was spilled.