People walk on a beach stained with fuel oil in Tauranga, New Zealand (map), on Tuesday.
Hundreds of tons of oil have leaked from the Liberian-registered container ship Rena, which ran aground on a reef last Wednesday.
With beaches coated black and some seabirds already stricken, the accident is now the country's "worst maritime environmental disaster," the New Zealand government announced Monday.
Bad weather has hindered efforts to reach the ship, which lies stranded about 14 miles (22 kilometers) offshore, said Catherine Taylor, director of the government body Maritime New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Herald.
"We are at the mercy of the sea," Taylor said. "It is not a quick fix."
Photograph from Maritime New Zealand/Massey University via Getty Images
Leaning Toward Disaster
The cargo ship Rena lists precariously after becoming stranded on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga, New Zealand, on October 5.
The ship—carrying 1,700 tons of fuel oil and 2,100 shipping containers—has become more unstable in the past day, and as many as 70 containers may have already fallen into the sea, the New Zealand Herald reported.
About 11 containers on board contain hazardous substances, though they are not believed to be among those now in the ocean, Maritime New Zealand officials told the Herald.
Photograph from Sunlive/European Pressphoto Agency
An oil slick snakes from the grounded cargo ship Rena on October 9.
In March the Malta-registered M.S. Oliva ran aground and later broke open in rough weather near a remote island in the British territory of Tristan da Cunha (see map).
That disaster also leaked fuel oil, which spread into an 8-mile (13-kilometer) slick and coated thousands of birds, including the endangered rockhopper penguin.
Worker Dorothea Strauss removes fuel oil coating the surface of a beach in Tauranga, New Zealand, on October 11.
Twenty official oil-response teams of 200 people each have been recruited to remove the oil as it washes ashore, the New Zealand Herald reported. About a thousand volunteers have also registered with Maritime New Zealand.
For example, in 1992 crews packed up and left the Valdez site without realizing that vast quantities of oil still sat below the surface—and much of that oil remains underground today, said Boufadel, of Temple University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Pennsylvania.
Photograph by Natacha Pisarenko, AP
Oiled penguins rest at a wildlife-rehabilitation facility in Tauranga, New Zealand, on October 7.
The facility has so far treated nine birds, but rehab director Brett Gartrell told the New Zealand Herald he expects the number to rise.
"There are lots and lots of seabirds in the area. This is a really rich area. There's a very high possibility we'll be dealing with a large scale" of oiled animals, Gartrell told the newspaper.
Photograph courtesy Maritime New Zealand via European Pressphoto Agency
Freshly scrubbed free of oil, a rescued penguin "poses" for the media at the wildlife-rehabilitation center in Tauranga, New Zealand, on October 11.
Costamare Inc., the company that owns the leaking cargo ship, is responsible for all costs incurred during cleanup operations, including caring for injured wildlife, the New Zealand Herald reported.
"This is being paid for by the spiller. Cost is not a problem for us," rehab director Gartrell told the newspaper.