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By Samuel R. Avro on Mar 12, 2009 with no responses

Australia Declares Disaster Zone after Major Oil Spill Coats Birds, Beaches

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A view of the oil slick on Marcoola beach.

The Australian state of Queensland declared two islands and parts of the Sunshine Coast tourist region a disaster area after a container ship leaked more than 30 tons of fuel in a storm which then polluted the area with a toxic mix of oil and fertiliser.

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

“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.”

The ship’s fuel stores were punctured when 31 containers of ammonium nitrate fertilizer slipped off the ship during a violent storm on Wednesday.

“The oil is our greatest concern, both to the environment and wildlife,” said Mike Short of the Environmental Protection Authority. “Spills and wildlife don’t mix.”

“Significant quantities” of oil have been deposited on parts of Moreton Island, the government said.

Helicopters which surveyed the disaster zone are reporting that the oil slick stretched 40 to 60 kms (25-40 miles) along the shore of the island.

Moreton Bay on Moreton Island is a marine sanctuary – home to a range of sea birds and creatures, including turtles, dolphins and pelicans.Environmental experts feat that the potential for fish and other mammals to be suffocated as a result of the spill is quite serious.

The ship’s owner, Hong Kong-based Swire, may face fines of up to A$1.5m ($977,000) if found guilty of environmental breaches, as well as being forced to foot the clean-up costs of A$100,000 a day.