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Published: 2007-02-08 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is advising water users to take care around Moturua (Rabbit) Island in the Coromandel, following the sinking of a 50-foot boat early this morning.

A small oil spill detected at the site does not appear to have caused any environmental damage.

However, the boat’s two masts are sticking out of the water, creating a potential navigation safety hazard.

Environment Waikato acting navigation safety manager Shelley Monrad said the masts had been tagged with a buoy and the site was being monitored by the harbour master.

“The boat is lying about 100m offshore west of island in about six metres of water and the owner’s insurance company is organising its salvage,” she said.

“We have issued warning notices over the Coastguard radio and Maritime radio and we are advising people to keep clear of the area.”

It is believed the boat caught fire while moored on the western side of Moturua Island, which lies off the coast of Papa Aroha in the northern Coromandel Peninsula.

“Reports from the Coastguard indicate the only people on board were the boat’s owner and his wife, who abandoned the ship and swam to the island,” said Environment Waikato’s emergency response manager Brendan Morris.

“We were told the couple then walked to a spot where they were able to flag down a mussel barge. The Coastguard was notified and took them back to Oamaru Bay.”

Mr Morris said Environment Waikato’s harbour master and two divers had inspected the vessel and observed a thin sheen of oil about 30m by 5m floating out into the gulf.

“This small amount is not expected to cause any environmental damage and there was no sign of any further oil on the vessel,” he said.

Environment Waikato has notified key agencies of the oil spill, including Thames Coromandel District Council, iwi, the Department of Conservation and Maritime New Zealand.

“We will be monitoring the site over the next few days to make sure there is no further potential for environmental damage,” Mr Morris said.