27 January 2006

Australia: Gladstone oil spill a tragedy for marine life

As the multi-million dollar clean-up of Queensland's worst oil spill in more than 30 years moves into its second day, the focus is turning to the environmental impact.

Authorities have now worked for more than 24 hours to contain the spill in Gladstone harbour on the central Queensland coast after 25,000 litres of heavy fuel poured from a coal carrier yesterday.

The clean-up is expected to take up to a week and cost more than $3 million.

The Wildlife Protection Association of Australia (WPAA) says it is a tragedy for the area's marine life.

WPAA president Pat O'Brien says it is the worst place the spill could have happened.

It says the area has dugongs, crocodiles and seabirds and many more animals that will be affected by the spill.

"It's probably the worst place that we could ever have a spill because it's inside the harbour," he said

"It's an area where there's a whole range of animals there that'll be affected by it.

"There's dugongs and porpoises and animals like that, that breathe air, that come to the surface regularly. Turtles again too, they'll finish up with oil all over them."

A marine investigator from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says preliminary investigations into the spill should be completed by tomorrow afternoon.

The ATSB is investigating how the tug rammed into a Korean bulk carrier and ruptured its fuel tank.

Investigation leader Peter Foley says the type of oil involved has added to the severity of the spill.

"It's certainly more difficult to control than perhaps crude oil because it tends to be around the same specific gravity or same density as sea water," he said.

Fishing collapse
Meanwhile, the commercial fishing industry in Gladstone says the industry is on the brink of collapse following the spill.

The local commercial fishing industry also wants to know how a tug boat could pierce the hull of a bulk coal carrier.

Gladstone Marina was closed to vessels after the spill, but Marine Safety Queensland says the marina was re-opened at 7:00am AEST; this includes access via Auckland Creek.

Bert Thornley was at sea off the Gladstone coast while the marina was closed, and says he stood to lose $35,000 worth of fish if his boat could not anchor within 24 hours.

"We're all very conscious about protecting the Barrier Reef where we work and to come all the way back home and find it happens right on your doorstep," he said.

"Perhaps they should look a little bit closer at the quality of vessels that they're letting in here.

"For a tug to be able to rupture the side of one of them freighters seems strange to me that the quality of the boat might not be there.

"We've got $30,000, $35,000 worth of fish on board and if we lose that you know there'll be hell to pay and it could take us years to recover it from whoever's responsible - it sort of hurts the little blokes like us a fair bit."

Warrick Sheldon, who represents Gladstone commercial fishermen, says the impact of the slick on the industry could be felt for months or years.

"It'll just annihilate the stocks plus everything up and down the food chain in relation to what the different fishermen catch," he said.

"It's right in the middle of the commercial banana prawn fishing season at the moment - this has the potential to just wipe out their stocks," he said.

Source: www.abc.net.au/news


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