Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oil Spill Blackens One of Australia's Pristine Island Beaches

As many seafarers know, when things go wrong at sea, it doesn't take too many contributing factors to create a marine disaster.

This is what happened a week ago near Brisbane, Australia when the 185 meter container ship, Pacific Adventurer, enroute from Newcastle to Indonesia via Brisbane ran into heavy seas whipped up by the tail end of Cyclone Hamish, a category 5 storm. The Brisbane Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre defines a Category 5 Cyclone such as Hamish as extremely dangerous with widespread destruction . Heavy seas can be encountered even after the cyclone has diminished in intensity.

The government of Queensland has declared Moreton Island and the southern area of the Sunshine Coast a disaster area. These are beautiful, pristine islands considered as sacred places by the local Aborigine people and the miles of sandy beaches are highly valued by tourists only a short ferry ride away from the greater Brisbane area.

Oil has washed up along a 20 kilometer stretch of Moreton Island's coastline. (Photo courtesy Government of Queensland)
The ship was seven nautical miles east of Cape Moreton when it reported losing 31 of a total 50 shipping containers of ammonium nitrate being carried on its deck. Several of the fallen containers pierced the ship's hull, resulting in an oil spill originally estimated at 30 tonnes.

"This is a very serious situation," said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh today, after a meeting of the emergency response group - members of key government agencies.

"I'm advised that it appears the volume of oil involved is much greater than originally reported by the Pacific Adventurer," she said. "And the effect of the oil spill is more widespread."

The Pacific Adventurer before the oil spill incident.
Photo by Peter Karberg MarineTraffic.com

So far more than 50 per cent of the 74 kilometres of coast polluted by the oil spill had been cleaned up. But fears remain over 31 missing containers of fertilizer. (ammonium nitrate)

The Federal Government yesterday called in navy minehunter HMAS Yarra to find the containers of ammonium nitrate, which could cause algal bloom in high concentrations.

Maritime Safety Queensland believes the containers have sunk 150 metres to the ocean floor. Three separate investigations are being conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Maritime Safety Queensland and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. They will look at the ship's seaworthiness, how the containers were stowed and circumstances surrounding the accident.

The captain has surrendered his passport and the ship will remain in port in Brisbane for at least two weeks as the investigations are carried out.

This marine disaster, while not huge, will still have long term environmental consequences for the region. You can check out a short news video on this oil spill here: http://media.theage.com.au/?rid=47024

Stories like this serve to illustrate what can happen with dramatic increases in large tanker traffic on the B.C. coast. http://www.marinergroup.com/oil-spill-history.htm

Almost every maritime nation has had numerous marine disasters like these, some more destructive than others. The link above lists many of them. Most are caused by ships collisions or groundings. Even with the most sophisticated marine traffic management schemes governing the most modern vessels, spills happen.

It is interesting to note that on March 26 and 27, in Richmond, B.C., the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management (PNCIMA) Forum, a two-day event that will engage people and organizations in the development of an integrated approach to oceans management for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) will have as it's first focus the establishment of a stakeholders working group on shipping and marine transportation in the PNCIMA region.

For more information on oil spill concerns and the potential impact of an oil spill on B.C.'s coast, check out Living Oceans Society's oil spill model here:http://www.livingoceans.org/programs/energy/model/

As the Local Ecological Knowledge Coordinator for Living Oceans Society I would be interested to know what your thoughts might be on the subject of increased tanker traffic on our coast, especially if all or some of the proposed pipeline mega projects slated for the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert come to fruition. You can post a comment to this blog article.

1 comment:

  1. That is one of the worst thing that could happen to a beautiful beach, to be polluted by oil spill. I have only seen oil spills on pictures but I heard from volunteer friends that cleaning up is a very difficult tasks with this things and that it is a big trouble for the marine life.