Equipment used for marine oil spills

Maritime New Zealand owns over $12 million dollars of equipment to use when responding to marine oil spills.

Equipment based around New Zealand

This equipment is housed in Auckland as well as at over 20 locations around New Zealand.

These plans identify sensitive sites and preferred response options for the most likely spill scenarios in each specific region, as well as what resources are held locally.

The equipment used to respond to an oil spill is stored and maintained at Maritime New Zealand’s Marine Pollution Response Service warehouse in Te Atatu, Auckland. There are also over 20 equipment stockpiles around the country.

The amount and type of equipment available in each location is based on the anticipated risk and size of a spill. For example, regions with major oil terminals have larger stockpiles and specialist equipment.

Each region has the equipment necessary to deal with minor spills and to mount a credible first response to more significant incidents. The larger and more specialised equipment (for larger or more complex spills), is based at Maritime New Zealand’s Marine Pollution Response Service warehouse in Te Atatu, Auckland.

Equipment can be mobilised quickly from anywhere in the country and transported by road and air to the scene of an oil spill.

Additional response equipment can be brought in from a number of international locations including Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom, if required. Equipment is paid for by the Oil Pollution Fund and remains the property of Maritime New Zealand. Planning for new or replacement equipment is undertaken by Maritime New Zealand, in consultation with the Oil Pollution Advisory Committee.


Cost recovery

All equipment has either hire rates or replacement values (where consumed). The recovery of equipment costs is a regional responsibility however the payment of these costs is the responsibility of the party that spilled the oil.

Some of the national response equipment, including that allocated to the regions, is available for limited hire to outside parties with the approval of the Director of Maritime New Zealand. Such instances may include fire-fighting, civil defence emergencies, terrestrial oil spills, salvage operations and offshore operations. The equipment must still be available for emergency deployment should a major marine spill occur.


Types of equipment and their use

The characteristics of the spilled oil will affect how it behaves and what response techniques can be used. There is no one technique, or type of equipment, suitable to deal with every situation.

The equipment used to respond to a spill includes a wide range of booms, pumps, oil skimmers and dispersant chemicals.


This is the most common piece of equipment used to contain an oil spill. A boom is a floating barrier that can be towed or anchored into place. All booms have a freeboard above the water to collect the oil and a skirt below the water to stop the oil moving under the boom. Booms are less effective in large waves and strong currents.

Booms can be used:

  • along shorelines or at sea
  • to contain oil until it is recovered
  • to prevent oil from entering sensitive areas or to divert it to less sensitive areas
  • to stop oil from stranding on shorelines.


Skimmers remove oil from the water’s surface. The skimmed oil is then stored in tanks awaiting disposal. Booms are used to concentrate the oil to make it thick enough to be skimmed off the surface. Maritime New Zealand has a range of skimmers that can be used in different situations.


Dispersants are chemicals that help remove oil from the sea surface by breaking oil slicks into small droplets. The small droplets are then dispersed and diluted into the underlying seawater by wave action where they are broken down by bacteria.

Read more about using dispersants


Sorbents are materials that attract and hold oils. Most sorbents rely on oil being absorbed into them, like a sponge, but others rely on the oil adhering to the sorbent material. Sorbents can be in the form of booms, pillows, pads or snares. They are generally made from polypropylene or polyethylene and can be wrung out and reused.

Oil recovery vessels

Once a Tier 3 oil spill event has been declared, and a National On Scene Commander appointed, Maritime New Zealand can requisition appropriate vessels in New Zealand to support a response. This includes, for example, large support vessels servicing off-shore oil and gas rigs.

Maritime New Zealand has three oil recovery vessels. They provide a mobile on-water capability when responding to New Zealand’s marine oil spills. They are designed to work in sheltered waters.

They are used to:

  • collect and retrieve oil with the assistance of a skimmer
  • apply dispersant
  • position other oil spill equipment
  • store the recovered oil in on-board storage tanks
  • pump the recovered oil to another vessel or tank.

They can be packed down for transport by road (on customised trailers or trucks) or by air (in an Air Force Hercules) and deployed anywhere in the country or even overseas.


The Taranui was New Zealand’s first oil recovery vessel. She was officially launched in April 2005 and is currently leased by the New Zealand Refining Company and based at Marsden Point in Northland.


Tukuperu was launched in November 2005 and is based in Picton. She is strategically located for Cook Strait and South Island maritime activity.


Kuaka was launched in December 2005 and is based at Maritime New Zealand’s National Oil Spill Service Centre in Te Atatu, Auckland.

Technical specifications of these oil recovery vessels
Cost: Around $200,000 each (fitted)
Designer: Slickbar
Builder: Bos and Carr Ltd, Kumeu, Auckland
Length: 8.2 metres
Beam: 2.4 metres
Engines: Two 90hp 4-stroke outboard engines
Speed: 25 knots when empty or seven knots when laden
Material: Aluminium Other equipment: Depth sounder, radio, compass, GPS plotter.