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Responding to spills and pollution

The primary aim of New Zealand’s marine spill and pollution response capability is to minimise damage to the marine environment and reduce the time for recovery of affected resources by achieving an acceptable level of cleanliness.

Maritime New Zealand is responsible for maintaining a nationwide capability to respond to marine oil spills of any size.

New Zealand’s response capability

New Zealand’s response capability is maintained (and developed) through partnerships between Maritime New Zealand, Regional Councils, the oil industry, and overseas agencies.

A response ‘system’ has been developed, based on contingency and strategic planning. The response system is comprised of three tiers. Each tier can be escalated to the next, depending on the scale of the event.

Those responsible for each tier are required to prepare contingency plans and a response capability appropriate to their respective levels of responsibility:

  • Tier 1 – industry (ships and onshore/offshore oil transfer sites)
  • Tier 2 – regional councils
  • Tier 3 – Maritime New Zealand.

If the scale of an incident is beyond the nation's domestic capability, arrangements are in place to secure overseas assistance. This relationship is reciprocal - New Zealand will be expected to assist our neighbours if requested.

Oil spill preparedness is funded by an industry levy, the Oil Pollution Levy , which is paid by those sectors whose activities raise the risk of a marine oil spill. In the event of an oil spill, the polluter is liable for all costs associated with the response.

Read about major oil spills around New Zealand


Capability review

In 2010, Maritime New Zealand commissioned a review of New Zealand’s oil pollution preparedness and response capability. This review was undertaken by a team from Thompson Clarke Shipping. The team consulted with some 50 organisations and visited 16 sites.

The review, completed and publicly released in June 2011, found New Zealand’s response capability, led by Maritime New Zealand’s Marine Pollution Response Service (MPRS), is well placed to respond to the current risk of oil spills in our waters. It also found MPRS is meeting all of its regulatory requirements.
The review also identified a path forward to develop New Zealand’s oil spill response capability over the next few years, resulting in 34 recommendations.
Maritime New Zealand has considered these recommendations, and has already implemented or started to implement many of them. Others will take some time to implement.

MPRS has developed a three-year action plan that details the way it intends to implement the review’s recommendations.

Below are links to the report from the Thompson Clarke Shipping review and the MPRS action plan.


Response equipment

New Zealand’s spill and pollution equipment capability consists of a national equipment cache located at Maritime New Zealand’s Marine Pollution Response Service (MPRS) in Te Atatu, Auckland and more than 20 caches with regional councils around the country.

Learn more about the equipment used for marine spills

Response personnel and training

A small expert response team is located at MPRS in Te Atatu. This team is supported by experts with specialist skills who are based in Maritime New Zealand's Wellington office and elsewhere throughout New Zealand. There are also about 400 trained personnel based within New Zealand’s 16 regions.

When wildlife are involved in a marine oil spill, the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team (NOWRT) may be mobilised. This team is trained, managed, and coordinated by specialists at Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences. In addition to Massey staff, the NOWRT consists of other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions. Each region also has a team of volunteer wildlife responders available to assist. Specialist wildlife equipment can be deployed from the Palmerston North Massey University Campus and a purpose-built wildlife treatment facility is also available.

Every region has one or more people appointed as regional on-scene commanders who are responsible for Tier 2 (regional) oil spill response within the region's coastal marine environment. New Zealand also has several national on-scene commanders who have the authority to declare a Tier 3 (national) response and take command of any oil spill incident within New Zealand marine waters.

Maritime New Zealand is responsible for providing training for people who are involved in marine oil spill response at both the regional (Tier 2) and national (Tier 3) levels. The oil industry is responsible for providing appropriate training for on-site (tier 1) response personnel.

Learn more about the training for response personnel

Strategy and contingency planning

The New Zealand Marine Oil Spill Response Strategy provides the overall framework to mount an efficient and effective response to marine oil spills. The Strategy is subject to a five-year formal review process.

Learn more about New Zealand’s Marine Oil Spill Response Strategy

The National Marine Oil Spill Contingency Plan promotes a planned and nationally coordinated response to any Tier 3 marine oil spill or training exercise. Tier 3 includes any marine oil spill that is:

  • beyond the capability of the regional council within whose region it is located
  • outside the 12 nautical mile offshore boundary of any regional council but within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Contingency Plan describes the national marine response organisation and procedures, and provides information on response resources, cleanup techniques, and administrative and operational procedures. The plan is updated every six months and officially reviewed every three years.

Maritime New Zealand produces special area contingency plans where necessary, for example Fiordland. These are developed where an area is of such environmental significance, or has such complex response issues, that it is deemed necessary to address contingency planning as a discrete entity.