Australian oil spill declared disaster
BRISBANE, Australia - Authorities declared a disaster zone yesterday along some of Australia's most popular beaches after tons of fuel oil that leaked from a cargo ship blackened the white sand for miles.
The government of Queensland state denied that it had acted too slowly to stop an environmental disaster, and threatened the shipping company with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
National parks at Moreton and Bribie islands just north of the state capital of Brisbane were hardest hit by oil spilled Wednesday from the container ship Pacific Adventurer, and oil washed ashore in pockets along the Sunshine Coast.
The potential for long-term environmental damage was not clear. The spill area is far to the south of the Great Barrier Reef, which was not affected.
Britain's Swire Shipping Ltd., the owner of the Hong Kong-registered ship, said containers of fertilizer had slipped from the ship's deck as it rocked in rough seas, ripping a hole in a fuel tank and spilling more than 11,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the sea. Later, the company said an inspection of the hull led it to conclude the amount of spilled oil was "significantly more" than that, but did not give a figure.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the ship, brought to port still leaking oil, would not be allowed to leave until officials were satisfied the spill had been explained.