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Pacific Adventurer oil spill a disaster says Anna Bligh

Article from: The Courier-Mail

Robyn Ironside, Anna Caldwell and Brian Williams

March 13, 2009 03:20pm

LATEST: THE cargo ship at the centre of one of southeast Queensland's biggest environmental disasters has now leaked oil in the Brisbane River.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, who flew over the ship berthed at Hamilton at 1pm today, said there was a 500m-long oil slick down the Brisbane River from the vessel, the Pacific Adventurer.

Pictures: Oil slick misery on the coast

He said the oil had escaped a boom around the stern of the ship.

"There is a very serious oil spill now in the heart of Brisbane," Senator Brown said.

"How did that happen? There's a failure down the line here which started in the Port of Newcastle and has now ended in the Port of Brisbane."

The vessel's owner, Swire Shipping, said in a statement the oil leak occurred when the ship, which had been listing, was brought upright after docking at Hamilton on Friday morning.

"As full soundings of the vessel's tanks were being taken at the port to determine how much oil had leaked from the vessel, a small quantity of fuel oil escaped from the Pacific Adventurer," the company said.

"The small oil leak was immediately contained between the ship and the wharf."

Swire Shipping said a recovery vessel had sucked the oil from the water's surface and booms around the ship had contained the leak.

Extra booms were set around the vessel as a precaution.

The company and insurers were now in talks with the authorities over the cost of the clean-up.

Around 100,000 litres of oil from the cyclone-stricken Pacific Adventurer have washed up on the shores of Moreton and Bribie island and parts of the Sunshine Coast.

The areas have been declared disaster zones and state and federal authorities are responding, while the maritime watchdog is investigating the spill.

Charges may be laid over what Premier Anna Bligh says could be "the worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen".

"We know that the ship was capable of carrying 100 tonnes so it could be anywhere between 30 and 100, but it is certainly significantly more than the 30."

A 20-strong national response team, manned by experts, had been activated to help deal with the massive oil spill from a cargo ship caught in cyclonic seas on Wednesday, she said.

Beaches are blanketed with oil from the Hong Kong flagged ship Pacific Adventurer as a massive clean-up is under way.

Authorities said conditions on Wednesday were too rough to use booms to try to contain the massive spill, which is likely to result in hefty fines for the ships owner Swire Shipping.

Overnight, high tides have broken up some of the oil along Bribie Island but pollution response teams including wildlife rescue officers, have been out since first light trying to deal with the mess.
Public access to the oil-affected beaches will be limited while the clean-up occurs.

The restricted zone covers Moreton Island, and the southern tip of Bribie Island, to Point Arkwright, south of Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast.

The reason why the ship was out in cyclonic seas would be the subject of a full investigation, Ms Bligh said.

"If there is any grounds for prosecution of this ship and its owners we will not hesitate to take that action.

"We will also be pursuing them for compensation as this is going to be a very big clean-up cost and I want those ship owners to be paying for it."

The owners of the ship could face huge fines, but questions are being asked about why the freighter was at sea in the middle of a cyclone, and the competency of the crew in securing its cargo of fertiliser.

The clean up is a delicate operation as beaches had already been eroded from the high tides after ex-tropical cyclone Hamish battered the coast over the past week.

Moreton Bay councillor Allan Sutherland, who has inspected the northern end of Bribie Island, told ABC Radio the oil had dispersed overnight thanks to high tides.

"A lot of the sand that has been pulled from the dunes with the high tides is helping disperse the oil so mother nature is on our side at the moment," he said.

The cargo ship also lost about 620 tonnes of ammonium nitrate overboard.

The full extent of wildlife affected by the spill was yet to be realised, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Clive Cook told ABC Radio.

"The flow-on effects of oil spills can be substantive," he said.

"The longer-term impacts are yet to be realised."

So far seven pelicans, one turtle and a few other birds had been found covered with oil, but there would be more to come, he said.

 Authorities vastly underestimated the impact of the biggest oil spill on Queensland beaches and vowed to double efforts today to tackle the disaster.

After a crisis meeting at Mineral House in Brisbane last night, Premier Anna Bligh declared a large section of the southeast Queensland coastline a disaster zone.

The meeting was attended by representatives from all relevant departments and agencies in a bid to develop a total government response to the oil spill that has polluted more than 30km of beaches on Moreton Island and the Sunshine Coast.

The disaster declaration will restrict public access to beaches affected by the oil slick and allow clean-up teams unobstructed access.

The declaration covers:

• All of Moreton Island.

• Coastal waters and beaches in the Sunshine Coast, Redcliffe and Brisbane disaster districts.

• The southern tip of Bribie Island to Point Arkwright.

Fifty people were deployed to clean up yesterday and that number will be increased to at least 100 today.

The disaster unfolded on Wednesday morning when the Hong Kong-registered ship MV Pacific Adventurer steered straight into unruly seas whipped up by Cyclone Hamish.

Pounded by waves up to 9m, 31 containers of ammonium nitrate fell overboard.

One of them ruptured the ship's hull, causing at least 30 tonnes of fuel oil to spew into the ocean The oil spill has contaminated some of the most pristine parts of the southeast coastline, killing and crippling wildlife and tainting some of Queensland's most popular beaches.

A thick oil slick, 50m wide, has spread over 30km of Moreton Island, with patches of oil also found on Bribie Island and Sunshine Coast beaches from Dickies Beach, Caloundra to Point Cartwright, Mooloolaba and from the Maroochy River to Point Arkwright.

On Moreton, the slick stretches from Eagers Creek on the ocean beach, north around Cape Moreton and on to Comboyuro Point, facing Brisbane.

The strip takes in the most popular tourist swimming spot at North Point and prime shorebird habitat at Heath Island and Tailor Bight.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Captain John Watkinson said most of the heavy fuel oil was ashore, meaning the slick would probably not contaminate any further.

"It's pretty nasty stuff," Capt Watkinson said.

Fears have been raised that 620 tonnes of ammonium nitrate will cause deaths to fish and seagrass and prompt a toxic algal bloom in Moreton Bay.

- with AAP 


Choose your news

oil spill on beach
TROUBLED waters ... workmen and machinery begin the massive clean-up task at Marcoola beach on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Megan Slade.

Have Your Say

Latest Comments:

I am overseas a the moment but this disgusting crude oil slick has made me aware of the fact that unless people complain things will get worse. Forget the politics! Just look at the reality. The ship was clearly not adequately prepared for the situation it found itself in. The standards need to be improved. If the custodians of those beautiful beaches and marine habitats don't set the standards than others will treat them with contempt. I can't help thinking that the mess on the beaches is symbolic of the moral malise that is spreading over all of us.


Posted by: Olga Iris Delandelles of 7:39am today

D Boxell (commment 277) asks "Whats the government supposed to do." They are suppose to have a plan on file to deal with a shipping disaster. They are not supposed to be wasting precious hours making this plan up after the disaster happens. It's the difference between proactivity and reactivity. This government only knows how to react. They reacted to the water crisis by building a desal plant that doesn't work, a recycled water plant that isn't being used, and spending $500million on a dam that may not be built. They reacted to the road crisis by duplicating the gateway bridge 8 years after it was deemed necessary. They react on a daily basis to the health system woes but never seem to make headway. What is the government suppose to do? Plan then implement, rather than implement then fix and fix again and fix again.....

Posted by: Andrew Davis of Brisbane 7:37am today

Long term damage to human health, real estate values, fishing, surfing, tourism is incalculable. Cancer rates in the local community will rise. Those responsible need to the book thrown at them. Shipping policy and procedure needs a full review and upgrade.

This event is unacceptable.

If you are directly affected - stand up for your rights - now. Phone or write your government. Organize through your local beach communities and surf clubs. Nobody else will do this for you.

Posted by: sparrowfahrenheit of 3:26am today

Swire Shipping needs to be held fully accountable. This should empty the company and its insurer. Seeing as the damage cannot be completely undone - criminal charges should be filed. If it takes ten years for recovery, those responsible should be spending ten years in purgatory. This is only fair.

Our poor poor coastline! My heart is broken.

Posted by: sparrowfahrenheit of 3:17am today

to quote the typical comment on here "if you don't like it, leave"

Posted by: udu of 1:02am today

If it was any other country they would have contained the spill and solved the problem. Here in QLD they did not control the leak and then drag the stricken ship into a river to further leak fuel. Smart state ? What smart state?

Posted by: I am gob smacked of 12:26am today

Could someone wake up the people at EPA. We have a situation. The next concern is the desal plant of the coast. How will it process the poluted water? However the oil may be a godsend in stopping the new pipes from further rusting.

Posted by: oils ain't oils of 12:15am today

Peter of Tin Can Bay(comment 254). The Greens are preferencing labour in 14 out of 89 seats. By my Maths that still makes 75 where we're not preferencing them. The Greens remain totally against Traveston Dam. It took Bob Brown to tell us the Pacific Adventurer was leaking oil in the Brisbane River not the EPA whose job it should have been.

Posted by: Ann of Deception Bay 11:06pm March 13, 2009
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