Honing the oil spill skills

That was about the number of people involved in the recent exercise held at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club. Hosted by Bay of Plenty Regional Council, some Waikato Regional Council staff were also invited along to the exercise too.

Its aim was to test and spruce up the whole organising background that becomes involved when oil is spilled into the harbour in any quantity.

The scenario for the exercise was a 60ft motor launch with the Canadian ice sailing team on board, running into the Otumoetai channel marker and losing diesel into the tide.

Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club became the exercise centre.

The ice sailing team all escaped, says regional harbourmaster Peter Buel. The boat had about 20 tonnes of diesel on board but only about 100 litres entered the tide, plus some hydraulic oils and lubrication oils from the engines.

A boom encircled the channel marker 17 to mark the spot.

While the exercise involved the boats from the regional council’s harbours department and use of booms pumps and skimmers from the emergency store at the port – the real exercise was inside, where people were sitting around tables with laptops.

Wearing colour-coded vests with labels sellotaped to their backs denoting ‘group operations’ ‘group intelligence’, ‘group logistics’, they are the ones who find people, the gear, the equipment and the means to deliver it where it is required.

“They are the ones who find out where we are at, where we are going, what do we need – trying to make order out of chaos,” says exercise health and safety manager Chris Woods.

And while they are actively involved in the exercise the only look at it in the real world is outside the window, where crates for transporting the oil booms and skimmers can be seen at the top of the ferry ramp.

Chris was involved in the Rena response and spent that mission in the former supermarket in Cameron Rd – now Harvey Norman – along with more than a 100 other people.

They had Shoreline Clean up Assessment Teams – or SCAT teams – checking the beaches at Pilot Bay and Matakana Island on the outgoing tide, and were planning to put up defection booms along the channel to prevent the afternoon’s incoming tide washing the diesel back over the pipi beds on the central bank.

Four shags were deemed to have been seen swimming within the boom among the diesel, which required DOC’s involvement. DOC would also be looking out for dotterels, little blue penguins and other marine life.

Of interest is how even at the early stage the demarcation between the regional council and other authorities involvement is clear.

Questions about how the accident happened and what the repercussions would be could not be answered.

“We don’t know why they ran into the beacon, that’s something that investigators will look at. Our focus right now is the response and minimising the damage to the environment,” says Peter.

When asked how long it would take, he pointed to recent experience.

“It can actually take quite a long time as we have seen from other incidents of a similar nature for those investigations to be completed.”


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