Diesel Spill near Stewart Island, April 2013

Stormy seas on the evening of Friday, 26 April resulted in the ‘Sureste 700’, a 58m Timaru-based fishing vessel to hit rocks and a fuel tank to rupture.  An estimated 3000 litres (3 tonnes) of diesel leaked near the shore of The Neck in Foveaux Strait, raising concerns for the nearby Ulva Island and Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve.

Quick action by the crew prevented further spillage of the remaining 20 tonnes of fuel on board, who manoeuvred the ship away from the rocks and pumped the remaining fuel into other safe tanks aboard.


NZ-News-Stewart-Island_jpg.jpeg The response

Emergency response teams, managed by Environment Southland (Southland Regional Council) were activated according to the regional oil spill response plan, with the Department of Conservation (DOC) providing additional wildlife advice.

Potential wildlife at risk included yellow-eyed penguins, kiwi that feed on adjoining beaches and a wide range of other seabird species such as muttonbirds, petrels, prions and mollymawks.

At first light on the 27th April aerial observations were made by plane to survey the extent of the spill - not a trace of diesel was seen. A local person reported that there was no obvious smell or sign of diesel washing up on their local beach either. On-scene commander Dallas Bradley concluded that, luckily for local wildlife, gale-force offshore winds and rough, high seas had assisted in evaporating and breaking down any spilled diesel, or washed it further out to sea. 

The spill occurred on the seaward side of The Neck, sheltering Paterson Inlet and Ulva Island from any potential impact. 

So despite the size of the spill, no wildlife response team was necessary!

Department of Conservation Murihiku and Southern Islands area manager Andy Roberts said an assessment would be made once the weather had improved, yet given the rapid apparent dispersal of the diesel it seemed highly unlikely that there was much of an impact on wildlife.  As for the Sureste 700, the trawler headed to Timaru to offload its catch and have the damage inspected by divers.

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