* “Fuel mule” flights bring in jet fuel from Australia
* More than 120 flights cut, but cancellations fall
By Ana Nicolaci da Costa
WELLINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A New Zealand navy vessel will ferry diesel fuel around the country as the government rushes to alleviate a days-long fuel shortage that has cast air travel into disarray in the run-up to Saturday’s national election.
The ship would transport up to 4.8 million litres of diesel - equivalent to 150 tankers - to enable industry to focus on providing jet fuel to crisis-hit Auckland airport, Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins said on Thursday.
More than 120 flights have been cancelled in New Zealand’s largest city this week, disrupting thousands of travellers each day after damage to the single privately owned pipeline that carries jet fuel from a refinery to the city’s airport.
“The government will continue to do everything it can to support industry efforts to address the disruption,” Collins said in statement.
New Zealand’s government and industry have taken a series of measures to try to contain the crisis, from fuel rationing to calling on the military to help truck in supplies of fuel, and have set up an industry government group to handle the fallout.
Another 14 flights were cancelled on Thursday, according to Auckland Airport, but that was less than half the number of flights cancelled on Wednesday.
“Generally what we are seeing is the cancellations across the industry have stabilized,” said Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand.
The ordeal has become a headache for the ruling National Party which is battling it out with the newly invigorated Labour Party to form the next government.
The latest poll showed National with a near 10 point lead over Labour, but polls have been volatile and at times have shown Labour with a comfortable winning margin.
Jacinda Ardern, which has almost single-handedly boosted Labour’s chances since taking over the leadership in August, has criticized the government for not having taken measures to avoid the kind of infrastructure failure that led to the disruptive fuel shortage.
Overnight, Australia’s Qantas Airways operated two flights from Australia, nicknamed “fuel mules”, carrying fuel to top up Jetstar and Qantas aircraft in Auckland, the airline said.
One was a scheduled A330 passenger service that carried an extra 10,000 kilograms of fuel, while the other was a special 747 flight with 65,000 kilograms of fuel aboard, it said. (Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore; Editing by Richard Pullin)