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Research Results

73% want war wreck inspected for oil pollution risk

26 Jun 23

73% want war wreck inspected for oil pollution risk
The Niagara ... 7 out of 10 want it inspected

73% of New Zealanders want the potential risks of a major oil spill from a shipwreck in the Hauraki Gulf to be investigated.

A Horizon Researhc survey for the Hauraki Gulf Forum finds:

  • 73% think the wreck should be inspected
  • 8% say don't inspect
  • 16% are not sure what should be done and
  • 4% say something else.

The results, from a Horizon Research omnibus survey of 1,100 adults onducted between 8 and 12 June 2023, have now been given to associate Transport Minister Kiritapu Allan. The Forum's letter to the Minister is here.


The survey's maximum margin of error is ±3% (at the 95% confidence level). The data was weighted on age, education, ethnicity, gender, Party Vote 2020 and region to be representative of the adult New Zealand population.

Respondents were asked what they think the Government should do about the potential risk of heavy fuel oil being released from the RMS Niagara.

Respondents were given the following information.

We’d like your view on whether or not the potential risks of a major oil spill from a shipwreck in the Hauraki Gulf should be investigated…


Here’s some background to help you answer the next question. (It’s a little long, but we think you’ll find it interesting)…


In June 1940 the 160m long passenger ship RMS Niagara left port in Auckland and hit one of 200 mines laid across the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf by a German ship.


It sank 30 kilometres offshore, 40 kilometres southeast of Whang─ürei at a  depth of around 100 metres. It lies just inside the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.


A 2018 report estimated it might still have up to 1600 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in its tanks.


However, no-one knows for sure how much oil may still be aboard. There have been regular small wisps of oil from the wreck over many years.


In 2018 Maritime New Zealand, responsible for wrecks, recommended the government spend between $850,000 and $1.6 million to investigate the wreck and determine the risk of the oil being released, as a result of on-going corrosion of its steel fuel tanks.


Cabinet did not agree to funding.


The Government now argues finances are tight and investigating the wreck may disturb and release any remaining fuel.


Those wanting the wreck investigated argue that an initial non-invasive assessment, looking at steel thickness and fully mapping the wreck, can be done with minimal risk.


They say that eventually the tanks holding any remaining oil will corrode through, potentially releasing the oil and polluting the Poor Knight Islands and Goat Island marine reserves, the Hen and Chickens islands, Omaha, Kawau and the Great Barrier and Waiheke Islands.


By way of comparison, the oil spill from the 2016 wreck of the ship Rena near Tauranga released 330 tonnes of oil and the beach clean-up cost around $47 million. This does not include the damage to wildlife.

They were then asked what they thought the Government should do about the potential risk.

There are no significant differences across demographic groups who think the wreck should be inspected.

Those more likely to think the wreck should not be inspected are:

  • 75+ year olds (16%)
  • People who voted for National Party at the 2020 general election.

Of the 4% said something else should be done the majority of their comments say to inspect the wreck and with some saying to remove the oil.  

The full report on this survey results is available here.

You're welcome to comment on Horizon's Facebook page.

A Stuff report on the poll and this issue is here.