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New Zealand Oil Cleanup Still Delayed By Weather (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 10/18/11 04:31 PM ET Updated: 12/18/11 05:12 AM ET

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP/The Huffington Post) -- Bad weather continues to thwart attempts to remove the remaining oil from the leaking cargo ship grounded off the coast of Northern New Zealand.

According to New Zealand officials, "A small amount of oil was released from the bow of Rena [Tuesday] morning." The Wall Street Journal reported that oil removal from the vessel was halted late Monday after weather conditions worsened.

Despite the continuing oil leakage and cracks on both sides of the ship, the Rena is "still held together through its internal structure," an official with Maritime New Zealand told The Wall Street Journal.

This latest impasse means that more oil is likely to be spilled into the water around New Zealand's North Island. The Los Angeles Times reported that officials estimate there to be 1,400 tons of oil remaining on the ship. The 350 tons that has already leaked has reportedly killed nearly 1,300 birds.

The company that was chartering a cargo ship at the time it ran aground on a New Zealand reef and began spilling tons of oil offered 1 million New Zealand dollars ($800,000) Tuesday to help with the cleanup.

Meanwhile, salvage crews have again halted attempts to pump the remaining oil from the stricken ship Rena due to bad weather.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company announced Tuesday that it was making what it described as a voluntary donation to the cleanup because it was "deeply concerned" about the toll that leaking oil is taking on the environment and the disruption it is causing to people's daily lives and businesses.

"We wish to emphasize that MSC does not own the Rena, we did not employ its crew and we are not responsible for the maintenance and operation of the vessel," the company added in a statement.

The owner of the Liberian-flagged ship is Greece-based Costamare Inc., which has said it's working closely with authorities to try and minimize the environmental damage from the grounding.

New Zealand's transportation minister Steven Joyce said this week that the cleanup has so far cost 4 million New Zealand dollars ($3.2 million), a figure that is likely to rise substantially.

Hundreds of volunteers are helping to clean up beaches and restore surviving sea birds to health. About 1,300 sea birds have died so far in the spill.

Salvage crews managed to remove about 100 tons of oil from the vessel over 29 hours before deciding late Monday that weather conditions were making it too dangerous to continue. Crews managed to remove about 11 tons in a previous attempt.

The ship, which became grounded on the Astrolabe reef near Tauranga on Oct. 5, was being battered by swells of up to 13 feet (4 meters) Tuesday. Experts and officials are bracing for it to fall apart or sink at any time.

An estimated 1,400 tons of oil remains on board, while about 350 tons has already leaked into the sea near the coast, leading officials to describe it as the country's worst maritime environmental disaster.

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TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 12: In this handout provided by Maritime New Zealand, Fly-over shots of stranded cargo vessel Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef, on October 12, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. The 47,000 tonne Rena, a Liberan container vessel, struck a reef on Wednesday causing an oil leak that has spread over five kilometres. Authorities are preparing for the worst environmental disaster in New Zealand history should the vessel break up and spill 1,700 tonnes of fuel into the Bay of Plenty. (Photo by Maritime New Zealand/Mark Alen via Getty Images)
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Filed by James Gerken  |