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Kaiti Beach oil spill exercise hailed a success

Posted on
5 Dec 2014
by Louise Bennett, ROSC

Kaiti Beach oil spill exercise hailed a success

An oil spill from vessels sheltering from a southerly storm in Poverty Bay saw Gisborne District Council’s Marine Oil Spill Response Team gear into action with shovels, rakes and even a bobcat yesterday [subs:Thursday] to clean oily debris from Kaiti Beach.

The day-long exercise tested the team’s preparedness for a regional oil spill and involved about 30 trained staff from Gisborne District Council, Maritime New Zealand staff and Massey University, as well as a few newbies.

Regional On-Scene Commander Louise Bennett said the exercise focused solely on the beach clean-up and the decontamination of people and equipment, an essential part of any response.

National On-Scene Commander Mick Courtnell explained several low-tech methods of capturing and recovering oil. These included self-levelling weirs, low-pressure flushing, oil-attracting booms and surf washing, in which oily sand is returned to shallow water for the sea action to push oil back to the beach for easy pick-up. Surf washing and low-pressure flushing were successfully used during the response to the Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty.

Mr Courtnell said the exercise enabled team members to review and learn operational skills required for attending a marine oil spill where a significant piece of coastline had been affected.

“The whole reason for responding is to help speed the natural recovery of the environment to its pre-oil spill condition. Besides gaining an overview of why respond to oil spills, who’s the lead agent and industry and government obligations, we focused on personnel and equipment decontamination, and operating with machinery as part of a clean-up – all with a primary focus on health and safety.”

Teams are legally required to retain and review skills twice a year.

“Gisborne’s team showed its members are versatile, think outside the square, are good at finding solutions, show good teamwork and are well-led.”

Reducing waste is key to any response, especially as every kilo costs. People power and low-tech intervention can result in lower levels of waste being retrieved. The more machinery is used, the greater the waste retrieved. Ideally, about 200 tonnes of waste would be retrieved if 100 tonnes of oil had been spilled.

Envirowaste projects development manager Des McCleary set up a decontamination unit including four hand-wash stations. Twenty of these units were developed early on in the Rena response and are now available to be sent anywhere in New Zealand within 24 hours.

 Massey University’s Wildbase Oil Response team’s Dr Graeme Finlayson and Dr Hayley Pearson worked with locals Sandy Bull and Darryl Coulter to retrieve and treat 10 “oiled” birds, before sending them to Massey for further rehabilitation. The exercise helped upskill the team and enabled equipment and facility checks.

Louise Bennett said the exercise was a success and was pleased with the team’s commitment.

“Maritime New Zealand and Wildbase’s involvement shows the importance of exercises like these.

“We have a national response team but regional team members could be called to help at any time. They need knowledge of every part of a response.

“Exercises help us plan for future incidents. Any changes we see as being beneficial are incorporated into our future plans and ways of operating. Getting people working well together is also a vital part of any successful response.”

Gisborne’s oil spill contingency plan, a living document reviewed every three years, has just been reviewed and approved. Today [Friday], Maritime New Zealand’s Matt Fraser-Long will conduct the quarterly check of Gisborne’s equipment.