Authorities declared parts of Australia’s northeast coast a disaster area Friday after tons of oil from a damaged cargo ship contaminated several beaches popular with tourists. Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh declared Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast as disaster zones after a ship lost more than 30 tons of fuel when its hull was pierced by a container washed overboard.
“It may well be the worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen,” Bligh told Australian Associated Press. The ship was capable of carrying 100 tons of oil and the spill was now much larger than initial reports indicated, she said.
At least 60 kilometers (37 miles) of beach coastline had been covered by the slick, which came from the Hong Kong-flagged ship [I][B]Pacific Adventurer[/B][/I] after it was damaged on Tuesday in heavy seas generated by tropical cyclone Hamish. A team of environmental cleanup experts was on its way to the area and local people would be barred from the disaster zones to aid a cleanup, Bligh said, ordering an investigation. "If there is any grounds for prosecution of this ship and its owners, we will not hesitate to take that action. We will also be pursuing them for compensation as this is going to be a very big clean-up cost," Bligh said.