Moreton Island Mess

15 March 2009 By Kara Murphy

Last week, Queensland’s eye was on Tropical Cyclone Hamish, which, at one stage, was classified Category 5 and threatening to hit the Whitsundays. Few were particularly worried, though, about it affecting the Brisbane area, far to the southeast.

At least not until Wednesday, March 11, when the Pacific Adventurer, a 185-metre Hong Kong-based container ship en route to Indonesia and navigating heavy seas whipped up by Hamish, lost between 30 and 50 shipping containers approximately seven nautical miles east of Moreton Island’s Cape Moreton.

At first Queenslanders were primarily worried about the potential effects of the ammonium nitrate (an oxidizing agent used as an explosive and as a fertilizer) stored in the lost containers. But soon, the oil spill – a result of the ship’s hull damage – and its stain on area beaches became the primary concern, with the Queensland Government declaring Moreton Island, Bribie Island (to the north), and southern areas of the Sunshine Coast (also to the north) a disaster area on Thursday night.

On Friday, March 13, Swire Shipping, operator of the Pacific Adventurer, released a statement saying the amount of oil leakage was substantially greater than originally estimated. The latest estimate, provided by Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ), the organization managing the cleanup, is 250 tons.

A key attraction for yachts in the Brisbane area, Moreton Island, 40 kilometres northeast of Brisbane, is the worst affected. Twenty-five kilometres of Moreton Island’s eastern shoreline is still strewn with oil today.

Long-term effects on area wildlife, which include marine turtles, dugongs, and resident and migratory shorebirds, are being assessed. As of today, the Pacific Adventurer’s containers had not been located, and the MSQ informed Dockwalk that water testing to assess the concentration of ammonium nitrate in the affected areas was being conducted.

According to MSQ, significant progress is being made in the oil spill response, with approximately 25% of affected Moreton Island and 85% of Sunshine Coast beaches now clean and 95% of the Bribie Island spill now removed. However, with 34 kilometres of coastline still requiring clean-up, the job isn’t finished.

Curtis McIntyre, dockmaster at Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, a deep-water marina located on the Brisbane River, explained that the oil, which looks more like a “heavy, sticky tar,” is currently visible on the waterline of boats in the marina.

The Pacific Adventurer is detained at Hamilton Wharf, farther up the Brisbane River, with booms in place to contain the oil – which also discharged during repairs – around the ship.

Swire Shipping can face fines of up to A$1.5 million, the Ship’s master up to A$500,000.

According to QLD’s Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, "A full investigation is underway. We will leave no stone unturned and those responsible will be forced to face the full consequences of their actions."

Are you in Queensland at the moment? If so, have you seen the impact of the oil spill? Let us know below.