The cruel irony of having $800,000 of sauvignon blanc stuck on the Astrolabe reef has not been lost on the Marlborough winery that shares the same name.
Blenheim wine company Astrolabe has a shipment of 4000 cases on the 236-metre Rena, the container ship grounded on the reef off Tauranga NZ since Wednesday.
The wine was destined for the Irish Christmas market.
An astrolabe was an ancient navigational instrument and the name of the ship sailed by French explorer Dumont D’Urville.
Astrolabe Wines general manager Jason Yank said he could see the funny side of his wine being stranded on a reef with the same name, “if there is a funny side”.
He heard about the shipping accident yesterday morning after reading an email from a staff member at his Dublin distributor, O’Briens. They had been contacted by JS Hillebrand, a freight company for the New Zealand wine industry, saying their delivery had been “delayed indefinitely”.
He hopes to dispatch an emergency shipment of 2800 cases of Astrolabe sauvignon blanc in two 12-metre containers on Monday.
“Door-to-door from our wine house in Marlborough to the shelves in Dublin probably takes seven weeks so we’ve had to move fairly quickly. It’s been all go,” Yank said. “All I’m concerned with at the minute is making sure the Irish market has their Astrolabe product for Christmas. You don’t want to upset the Irish.”
Next for the Marlborough winemaker is trying to salvage their $780,000 load from the Rena.
“The problem is that inside this boat there is significant flooding. Depending where the containers are physically on the ship will determine whether there has been any water damage, which could cause labels to peel. Any stock that has been damaged will have to be destroyed.”
The ship had 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in its tanks and by this morning leakage had created a narrow slick stretching five kilometres. Four seabirds were found dead yesterday close to the ship, with another bird found covered in oil.
Dispersant used yesterday failed to get rid of the slick.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the oil spill “has the potential to be New Zealand’s most significant maritime pollution disaster in decades”.
He said the Government’s core responsibility lay with Transport Minister Steven Joyce, who would visit the site today.
A Blenheim man who worked as a shipping agent at Tauranga Port for 20 years said a fuel spill could cause an environmental catastrophe.
“The heavy fuel oil that powers the ship is like tar,” he said. “It is like a thick syrup and that area is so pristine with beautiful fishing spots and surf beaches. It doesn’t bear thinking about – the damage could be horrendous.
“At low tide you can see the reef as waves break across it. I’ve been out there fishing many times and you just don’t anchor near the reef because if a swell comes along it can pick you up and put you on it.”