TAURANGA, New Zealand – The calmest weather in days has given salvage crews hope they will be able on Friday to resume pumping the remaining fuel from a cargo ship stuck on a New Zealand reef.The ship Rena has already spilled hundreds of tons of oil and crews are in a race against nature to try and remove the remaining fuel before waves break up the vessel, which has begun to crack apart and is leaning on a 22-degree tilt.

Last week crews removed about 10 tons of oil before the weather forced them to postpone salvage attempts.

Environmentalists have warned of a disaster for wildlife if all the ship’s 1,870 tons (1,700 metric tons) of oil and 220 tons (200 metric tons) of diesel is allowed to spill into the ocean.

Nick Bohm, a spokesman for Maritime New Zealand which is managing the emergency response, told The Associated Press Friday that crews are “relatively positive” they can proceed with plans to board the vessel and begin pumping oil to a nearby barge. He said pumping should begin Friday afternoon in an operation that could last several days.

Bohm said there are stronger winds forecast for the weekend which may hamper the operation.
Meanwhile, several of the 88 containers that have fallen off its deck had washed ashore by Friday, and authorities confirmed one container that toppled overboard contained a hazardous substance. However, an official said it should not pose a major threat.

Heavy seas had kept salvage crews away from the 775-foot (236-meter) Liberian-flagged Rena for days, but better weather Thursday allowed crews to board the vessel for about six hours to check systems. The Rena ran aground Oct. 5 on Astrolabe Reef, 14 miles (22 kilometers) from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand’s North Island.

Ewart Barnsley, another spokesman for Maritime New Zealand, said the salvage crew found oil hoses and pumps for transferring fuel largely undamaged aboard the ship. They also concluded that the ship was safe to work from. Barnsley said a barge was moored nearby to receive oil.

Marine New Zealand salvage manager Bruce Anderson said the vessel has appeared to have stopped moving, which was necessary before pumping operations can resume.

“While this is good news, we shouldn’t get too excited,” Anderson told reporters. “We already had a complex project to start with; it’s even harder now.”