Toxic disaster \’could get worse\’

The massive oil spill smothering southeast Queensland\’s coastline is threatening an unprecedented environmental disaster for the region and could deteriorate further, experts say.


Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) said on Friday the situation was worsening by the day, even though an army of workers from state and federal agencies were involved in the clean-up, using everything from heavy machinery to rakes.

Yet as authorities focused on the damage to Moreton and Bribie islands and Sunshine Coast beaches – now declared disaster zones – more oil spilt into Brisbane River. The 500m slick was contained.

Leak \’bigger than expected\’

Swire Shipping, the company that owns the Pacific Adventurer, says the hole in the hull of the cargo ship, where the fuel is stored, is bigger than earlier estimations.

“The damage suffered as a result of Cyclone Hamish is greater than initially understood, and it is likely that substantially more oil has spilled than the earlier estimate of 42.5 cubic metres (42.5 tonnes),” Swire Shipping said in a statement.

Authorities say up to 100 tonnes of oil may have leaked from the Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship battered by cyclonic seas off Moreton Island on Wednesday.

“(The spill) was much worse than I had anticipated and it is still possibly getting worse in some areas,” MSQ general manager Captain John Watkinson told reporters in Brisbane.

Ship detained by authorities

Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) CEO Graham Peachey late on Friday said it had detained the Pacific Adventurer.

“We have detained the ship, we (AMSA) have powers of detention, and it\’s not going anywhere until we release it,” Mr Peachey told reporters in Canberra.

“We will be talking to the skipper and anyone involved in it and will be doing our own investigations, we have powers under our own act to do that and that is under way.”

Under the legislation the ship\’s owners face the possibility of up to $2 million in fines and the skipper could have to pay up to $200,000.

\’Worst disaster in QLD\’s history\’

They may also be liable for up to $250 million for environmental damage to the shoreline.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh on Friday declared the Moreton and Bribie islands and parts of the Sunshine Coast disaster zones and said those responsible would feel the full force of the law.

“It may well be the worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen,” Ms Bligh said.

The reason why the ship was out in cyclonic seas and how the disaster unfolded would be fully investigated, Ms Bligh said.

“If there is any grounds for prosecution of this ship and its owners we will not hesitate to take that action,” she told AAP.

\’Inadequate response\’

“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 Queensland opposition, local wildlife carers and environmental groups have accused the government of a slow and

inadequate response.

Liberal National Party leader Lawrence Springborg said Labor had failed to have an appropriate emergency plan in place to deal with an environmental disaster.

“The LNP was briefed yesterday morning and told everything was under control, only to find out last night that we have a disaster on our hands,” Mr Springborg said.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said the response had been adequate, but the government was not told the truth about the full extent of the spill.

“When someone (the ship) has lied to you about the level of leakage of oil, then it is a very difficult situation to be in,” Mr Lucas told reporters.

\’Throw the book at them\’

“This is in interstate trade in Australian waters, not Queensland waters.

“If these people have done the wrong thing in relation to misleading us, I want the book thrown at them.”

The master and crew remain on board the ship, which is berthed at Hamilton, after unloading 19 containers of the bomb-making fertiliser ammonium nitrate.

About 620 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in 31 containers had fallen overboard on Wednesday, which damaged the ship\’s hull.

An independent auditor is investigating how much oil has escaped the ship\’s damaged hull.

So far only about 13 animals were known to be affected by the oil, but the Environmental Protection Agency was expecting the number to rise.