January 10th, 2012
01:13 AM ET

Grounded cargo ship leaks more oil off New Zealand coast

The stern of a cargo ship that ran aground last year on a reef off the coast of New Zealand has slipped further underwater, officials said Tuesday, spewing nearly 10 more tons of oil into the sea.

Some 21 containers holding a hazardous metal called cryolite - a by-product of aluminum smelting - have also slipped off the vessel as it plunged downward, said Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman Michele Poole.

"We had significant storms last weekend and the seas really have not subsided," added Poole. "So it's very rough out there."

Authorities say they do not consider the metals dangerous because they are wrapped in plastic within the container. Should the containers break apart, Poole noted, the metals' toxicity levels would likely be diluted by the surrounding sea water.

The metals are not thought to pose an environmental risk, she said.

Still, emergency management teams were again placed on alert after monitoring devices aboard the ship - named the MV Rena - indicated Tuesday morning that the vessel had further slipped off the Astrolabe Reef, located about 12 nautical miles off the city of Tauranga.

Authorities said six little blue, or korora, penguins have since been recovered after new pockets of oil surfaced later Tuesday, but added that they do not expect a need for a major recovery effort.

The Liberian-flagged vessel struck the reef in October and has split in two.

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