Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Australian coast hit by oil spill

A dead blowfish and oil slick on Marcoola Beach (12 March)
Experts fear the toxic chemicals will suffocate fish and kill natural habitats

Several beaches along Australia's east coast have been polluted by a toxic mix of oil and fertiliser, after a cargo ship shed its load in stormy seas.

Large oil slicks have washed up on the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Island, near Queensland's state capital, Brisbane.

Maritime officials say 31 containers of ammonium nitrate fell from the deck in huge swells, puncturing the ship's hull and releasing 30 tonnes of oil.

An investigation is under way into the state's worst oil spill in 30 years.

The ship's owner, Hong Kong-based Swire, may face fines of up to A$1.5m ($977,000; £703,000) if found guilty of environmental breaches, as well as clean-up costs of A$100,000 a day.

A slick of oil 15km long (9.3 miles) is said to have leaked from the Pacific Adventurer's fuel stores in rough waters, in the wake of tropical cyclone Hamish.

The oil is our greatest concern, both to the environment and wildlife - spills and wildlife don't mix
Mike Short
Environmental Protection Authority

Environmental experts fear the nutrient-rich fertiliser could cause damaging algal blooms, suffocate fish and kill natural habitats.

Moreton Bay on Moreton Island is a marine sanctuary - home to a range of sea birds and creatures, including turtles, dolphins and pelicans.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said it had begun removing the oil and was treating oil-affected wildlife. About 100 turtle eggs have been rescued.

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

Radar-equipped aircraft are searching for the missing containers of fertiliser - which can be used to make explosives.

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Country profile: Australia
22 Feb 12 |  Country profiles

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