Jet Fuel shortage hits Virgin flight to Samoa

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Auckland Airport after flights were cancelled due to a fuel pipeline leak. Thousands of travellers are expected to be affected.

Auckland Airport after flights were cancelled due to a fuel pipeline leak. Thousands of travellers are expected to be affected. (Photo: NICOLE LAWTON/STUFF)

A fuel pipeline that supplies Auckland has been damaged and it has already disrupted travel for thousands of people.

 Among them were passengers on a Virgin Samoa flight scheduled for Faleolo on Sunday night, which did not arrive. It was one of more than 20 flights cancelled.

Only Air New Zealand’s flight to Samoa landed as scheduled on Sunday night, according to officials at the Faleolo International Airport.

Back at Auckland Airport, it was a waiting game for passengers wanting to get to Samoa.

 “We were going to celebrate my birthday in Samoa but on our way to the airport, I got an email that our flight has been cancelled,” one passenger told Stuff.

“We were first told that the first possible flight for us is in five days but when we called them again they told us different things and finally they rescheduled us for today. So fingers crossed.”

Another passenger said the wait was frustrating.

“We’ve just found out that it’s already been cancelled but we had no idea,” he said. “We weren’t informed that the flight has been cancelled. I’m disappointed but if it’s for the best then I’ll wait.”

One more passenger on the Virgin Samoa said the issue was unavoidable.

 “They said they were running out of petrol, that’s what happened. They have to look after their people, they have to collect some more petrol so that this will not happen again.”

According to Stuff, a 168 kilometre-long pipeline supplying jet fuel, petrol and diesel from the Marsden Point refinery in Northland to tanks in Wiri, Auckland, has been out of action since Thursday. It's believed to have been hit by a digger being used to extract swamp kauri near Ruakaka.

It's also Auckland Airport's only supply of jet fuel.

On Thursday, the pipeline's customers – BP, Z Energy and Mobil - as well as Energy Minister Judith Collins were alerted to the situation. Prime Minister Bill English received a "high level" briefing on Sunday.

However, it may have been damaged months ago and only failed on Thursday, according to one report.

Despite the pipe being shut down within 15 minutes of being damaged, about 70,000 litres of fuel was spilled, RNZ reported.

It's the first time the pipeline has suffered a fault, according to Mobil Oil New Zealand's manager Andrew McNaught.

Collins admits it's "embarrassing" such a massive issue was caused by a digger driver.

 

HOW DOES THE PIPE WORK?

The pipeline is owned and maintained by Refining New Zealand. The pipe is 250 millimetres wide and has an approximate volume of nine million litres. It's buried along it's entire length.

It first went into operation in 1985. It supplies regular and premium petrol, diesel and jet - A1 fuel. Each product is pumped down the pipe, one after the other.

On its website, Refining NZ says: "there is some mixing at the interface which can be switched into special tanks at Wiri for blending later."

It operates under a five-yearly certificate of fitness and annual surveillance audits. This interactive map shows how the pipeline works.

READ MORE -  A cut pipeline is causing a jet fuel shortage at Auckland Airport. Here's what we know so far


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