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Grounded cargo ship breaks apart

Grounded cargo ship breaks apart
Stranded cargo ship Rena has broken in two off the coast of New Zealand amid severe storms (Maritime New Zealand/AP)

Published: 2:51am, 8th January 2012
Updated: 6:08pm, 8th January 2012

A cargo ship grounded off the coast of New Zealand since October has split in two, spilling sea containers and debris and sparking fears of a fresh oil spill.

The wreck of the Greek-owned Rena was described as New Zealand's worst maritime environmental disaster even before the rear section of the ship, lashed by pounding seas, broke away.

The ship previously spilled heavy fuel oil that fouled pristine North Island beaches and killed up to 20,000 seabirds, and despite salvage efforts nearly 400 tons of oil remain on board.

Maritime officials said the front section of the wreck remains stuck in its original position, but the stern section slipped at least 100ft away from the bow and is "moving significantly", pounded by 19ft waves.

"There has been a significant discharge of containers and container debris from the ship," said Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson. He warned that the storm that split the vessel will continue for another three to four days.

Alex van Wijngaarden, on-scene commander for the national response team, said oil could come ashore once again.

"While reports at this stage indicate there has not been a significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely," he said. "While it is unknown at this stage exactly how much oil may be released, teams have been mobilised and will be ready to respond to anything that may come ashore."

The containers, meanwhile, spilled goods including timber and bags of milk powder and the debris is also expected to wash up on shore.

Some containers have been sighted floating up to 20 miles north-west of the stricken ship, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said, adding: "They have been caught in a strong coastal current" fuelled by the storm.

The Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef 14 miles from Tauranga Harbour on North Island on October 5.

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