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A huge oil slick blackens the sand of pristine beach near Cape Moreton on Moreton Island, Queensland, Australia, Thursday. Workers started to clean up oil that washed up on Australian beaches from a cargo ship that leaked fuel when it was damaged by falling containers of fertilizer in stormy seas. AP Photo

Workers clean spilled oil from Australian beaches

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- Workers rescued turtle eggs Thursday and started to clean up oil that washed up on Australian beaches from a cargo ship that leaked fuel when it was damaged by falling containers of fertilizer in stormy seas.

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A day earlier, the Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers carrying 694 U.S. tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make explosives. The falling containers damaged fuel stores in the hull, spilling up to 34 U.S. tons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

The spill created a slick reported to span six miles in waters off Brisbane, on Australia's eastern coast.

State officials inspected the coast by air, and about 50 people checked for oil pollution on land and cleaned oil that soiled beaches on the east and northern shores of Moreton Island and Marcoola Beach. A veterinary clinic was set up on a beach to treat affected wildlife.

Marcoola lifeguard official David McLean said oil globules stretched for about 1,000 yards (one kilometer) along the beach.

"As you walk along it sticks to the bottom of your shoe like glue," he said.

Volunteers were moving turtle eggs away from the area, he said.

Mike Short of the Environmental Protection Agency said the fertilizer in the lost containers would be diluted enough to avoid major problems. Ammonium nitrate can be explosive when exposed to heat or chlorine.

"The oil is our greatest concern, both to the environment and wildlife," Short said. "Spills and wildlife don't mix."

But marine expert Mike Kingsford, from James Cook University, said the ammonium nitrate could cause burns and even be fatal for fish and seagrass, and that the containers could damage to the ocean floor.

An inquiry is being conducted into how the ship lost the containers, which have not been found. The ship was caught in wild seas from ex-Cyclone Hamish.

The Pacific Adventurer's remaining cargo was to be unloaded Thursday in Brisbane, where the vessel will likely undergo repairs.

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