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By David Goodhue
Whakatane, New Zealand
Hundreds of tons of oil spilling into New Zealand's Bay of Plenty from a stranded cargo ship have created the country's worst environmental disaster, the nation's top environmental official said this week.
The Liberian-flagged container ship Rena struck a reef about 14 miles off the country's North Island last Wednesday, but heavy seas have prevented salvage crews from saving the vessel.
New Zealand media report that a crew trying to pump the ship's oil issued a mayday call this week after sustaining more damage from battering waves.
New Zealand officials said the ship has leaked an additional 350 tons of fuel into the Bay of Plenty. About 20 tons of oil spewed into the sea when the ship first struck the Astrolabe Reef.
The oil is washing up on Mount Maunganui Beach and is covering fish and birds. Crews are working desperately to save the wildlife from the oil.
New Zealand gears up for environmental disaster amid break up, oil spill fears
Wellington, New Zealand
Less than a week after 47,000-ton container vessel "Rena" hit a reef off the North Island and stranded there, New Zealand is gearing up for an environmental disaster amid concerns over a possible break up and oil spill into the pristine Bay of Plenty.
The incident has already killed several seabirds after creating a 5-km-long oil slick. The container is carrying 1,700 tons of heavy fuel oil.
In a statement to Fairfax Media, New Zealand Environment Minister Nick Smith said this could be the country's most significant maritime pollution disaster in decades.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Steven Joyce assured that authorities are working to remove already spilled oil from the bay which is one of the major tourist spots of the country.
The Bay of Plenty is home to seals, penguins, dolphins and whales. "The difficulty is that the situation is deteriorating and according to the advice I've received, there's the possibility it could break up and sink," Joyce told the New Zealand Herald.
"It's certainly serious, what's going on there. They're certainly moving as fast as they can. It's been a bit frustrating for everybody in terms of getting the right equipment to achieve the removal of the oil and containers," he added.
World - Bay of Plenty Oil Spill May Be New Zealand's Worst Environmental Disaster | Global Viewpoint