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Risk of trawler causing environmental pollution heightens

29th March 2004

High seas yesterday halted efforts to salvage a trawler that ran aground on Banks Peninsula on Friday.

Winds gusting up to 74kmh also frustrated checks on the environmental threat to coastal waters of diesel and oil stored on the Bronny G, which experts said was likely to be breaking up.

Skipper Archie Laird and his two crewmates scrambled onto rocks after the trawler crashed on the coastline at 3am on Friday. They were later airlifted out by helicopter.

Mr Laird, who was recovering from his ordeal at home yesterday, declined to comment. His wife said the trauma of Friday's events was "still too raw".

"We have three young children to think about. It was terrifying. We need to put it behind us," she said.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) regional harbour master Captain Robin Keer-Keer said it was inevitable the boat would have begun to break up, heightening the risk of pollution.

The Bronny G was carrying
2000 litres of diesel and an unknown quantity of oil.

ECan enforcement officer Tony Rodgers said he had made two inspections on Friday, hours after the boat ran aground on rocks south of Le Bons Bay.

"The first time we went out the air was thick with the smell of diesel and a film of the fuel covered the sea up to 100m from the vessel," he said.

"When we returned, the spill had evaporated. I do not believe there is an environmental threat at the moment, but I cannot say for sure because no one has been able to get out there for 36 hours. We do not know to what extent she's damaged."

Sunland Marine insurance assessor Brian Piner said his team managed 10 minutes on the Bronny G yesterday before waves crashing 5m above the trawler forced a retreat.

Mr Piner said his greatest fear was all the diesel would gush out at once.

"We did not have the time to assess anything. It was too dangerous to be on board. But what we saw was enough to make me realise how lucky the crew was to escape."

It was still unclear what caused the Bronny G to run aground. Winds were reaching 20 knots in the craggy bay, which is notorious for its treacherous conditions.

The stricken vessel could be seen at the foot of 50m cliffs, where it had lodged on rocks south of Steep Head.

A lighthouse, which was working at the time of the accident, was nearby.

A Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) inquiry will start this week. Investigators will quiz the Bronny G crew, all of whom were released from Christchurch Hospital on Friday after being treated for hypothermia.

The Press was unable to contact the boat's owner,
Pegasus Fishing Ltd.