Responding to spills and pollution

The primary aims of New Zealand’s marine spill and pollution response capability are to minimise damage to the marine environment and to ensure that affected areas recover as quickly as possible.

New Zealand’s response capability

Most oil spills within New Zealand waters are likely to happen close to the coast or in harbours. This makes it extremely difficult for responders to prevent some oil from reaching the shoreline as, depending on local weather, currents and tides, any spilt oil could reach the coast and coastal resources within hours.

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.


Three-tier response system

In line with international practice, New Zealand has a three-tiered approach to managing all aspects of marine oil spill preparation and response. These Tiers are provided for in the Maritime Transport Act 1994.

Those responsible for each tier are required to prepare for and respond to an oil-spill that is appropriate to their level of responsibility:

Tier 1 oil spills - industry are responsibility for these spills (eg ships and onshore/offshore oil transfer sites).

Tier 2 oil spills - regional councils are responsible.

Tier 3 oil spills - we are responsible, on behalf of 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.

A view looking out the back of a plane that's flying low over the ocean while spraying out dispersants.

Major spills in New Zealand and beyond