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breaking up...the ship that threatens NZ coast

The condition of a stricken cargo ship stuck on a reef and leaking oil off the coast of New Zealand worsened today, with about 70 containers falling overboard and the vessel moving on to a steeper lean.

Meanwhile, the captain of the Liberian-flagged Rena was arrested and charged under New Zealand's Maritime Act. He could face a year in prison if convicted.

The ship has been foundering since it ran aground on October 5 on the Astrolabe Reef, about 14 miles from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand's North Island.

The government has demanded to know why the ship crashed into the well-charted reef in calm weather, but the vessel's owner has given no explanation.

New Zealand's environment minister Nick Smith has called it the country's biggest maritime environmental disaster.

Clumps of the oil have washed up on pristine beaches near Tauranga, and environmental officials said 53 birds were found dead.

hnews@herald.ie