Australian oil spill bigger than first thought

March 13th, 2009 - 12:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, March 13 (DPA) Oil from a damaged ship has washed up on 60 kilometres of beaches on Australia’s east coast in what officials declared an environmental disaster.
Oil gushed from the Hong Kong-owned Pacific Adventurer Wednesday when it was lashed by a storm in international waters near Brisbane.

The 180-metre vessel also lost 31 containers overboard that contained the fertilizer ingredient ammonium nitrate.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the spill was much bigger than the captain reported and the damage much greater than anticipated.

“We know that the ship was capable of carrying 100 tonnes (of oil) so it could be anywhere between 30 and 100, but it is certainly significantly more than the 30 (tonnes initially reported),” Bligh said.

Beaches are closed to tourists until the mess has been cleaned up.

“At this stage my priority is to have teams of people out there cleaning this mess up, to protect wildlife in what may well be the worst environmental disaster that Queensland, or the south-east of our state, has faced,” Bligh said.

“If there is any evidence that this ship owner breached any regulations we will not hesitate to prosecute. We’ll be pursuing the ship’s owner for full compensation for the cost of this clean-up.”

The Pacific Adventurer is now safely at anchor in Moreton Bay. Aerial searches failed to locate any of the containers.

Sunshine Coast Council spokesman Stephen Skull said removing the oil would be a long and laborious job.

“It’s certainly bigger than the first reports I was getting in terms of the extent of it and the magnitude of what’s impacting on our beaches,” he said.

University of Queensland academic Michael White said that ammonium nitrate was not a threat to marine life but warned that the lost containers were a threat to shipping.

“It’s a hazard then, because if especially small craft come onto it, especially in heavy weather like now, they would bash the hull against the container and probably would break up the ship,” he said.

Queensland Seafood Industry Association president Neil Green said containers bobbing in the ocean were worrying trawler captains.

“We’re horrified,” he said. “Looking at the location of where these containers went over, it’s smack bang in the middle of our trawl grounds.”

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