"TAURANGA, New Zealand -- Rough weather has jostled a cargo ship stuck off New Zealand's coast and worsened its oil leak fivefold to make it the country's worst-ever maritime environmental disaster, the government said Tuesday."
"Clumps of heavy oil from the Liberia-flagged Rena have washed up on pristine beaches near Tauranga on New Zealand's North Island, and environmental officials said 53 birds were found dead and 17 were getting emergency treatment to remove oil from their feathers.
'This event has come to a scale where it is New Zealand's most significant environmental maritime disaster,' Environment Minister Nick Smith told reporters in Tauranga, adding that the clean-up would take weeks.
The ship has been foundering since it ran aground Oct. 5 on the Astrolabe Reef, about 14 miles (22 kilometers) from Tauranga Harbour, and the government has demanded to know why the ship crashed into the well-charted reef in calm weather. The ship owner has given no reason for the grounding, but says it is cooperating with authorities. "