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Published: 2001-11-08 00:00:00

Heavy rain made little difference to a crew of about 25 practising mopping up an oil spill in the Firth of Thames yesterday.

They were taking part in an oil spill response exercise, and despite constant rain were able to deploy complex oil retrieval equipment and get the fake job done rapidly.

The team were operating on a scenario that a tanker had overturned on State Highway 25 about 9am Wednesday morning. The tanker, carrying about 6000 litres of lube oil, had lost control on a sharp bend in wet weather and rolled down a steep rocky embankment, rupturing its tank. The oil was moving towards Kuranui Beach on the incoming tide.

The exercise involved staff from Environment Waikato, Environment BoP, Auckland Regional Council, Marine Safety Authority, Department of Conservation and iwi representatives, with occasional curious neighbourhood onlookers.

The team used oil spill recovery equipment, including booms and specially designed retrieval mops stored at Thames, to clean up the fake spill, while DoC staff kept an eye on wildlife in the area.

The beach is usually home to 5000 – 10,000 South Island oyster catchers, and is an internationally recognised habitat. Fortunately, none of the birds were home during the exercise. Several orca were spotted further out into the Firth, which in a real event could have provided an issue for the crew to deal with.

On Scene Commander Scott Fowlds said the exercise was very useful in familiarising staff with the use of equipment and building skills which would speed response time when a real oil spill had to be tackled.

Staff did not often get an opportunity to use the equipment, which is provided by the Marine Safety Authority, and needed to develop team working skills to ensure oil spills were tackled quickly and efficiently. The exercise provided an opportunity to test people and equipment and develop improvements.

Environment Waikato is responsible for responding to oil spills around the extensive coastal areas of the Waikato Region. This includes the Coromandel peninsula, the firth of Thames, and the west coast from Port Waikato to Mokau.