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Pacific Adventurer: polluting oil and ammonium nitrate spill another product of climate change

By Dave Riley

On Tuesday March 10,the Pacific Adventurer,a 185 metre container ship, was enroute from Newcastle to Indonesia via Brisbane when it lost 31 containers in heavy seas about seven nautical miles east of Cape Moreton.The ship was sailing into the southern edge of the Category 5 Cyclone Hamish and navigating through swells of up to 9 metres. The fallen containers pieced the ship’s hull and resulted in the loss of heavy fuel oil.

Originally it was claimed by the Pacific Adventurer’s owners that only 20 to 30 tonnes of oil had been lost, but it is now clear that some 230 tonnes of oiled spilled into the ocean. Significant quantities of oil were deposited by tidal and weather conditions onto the coastline stretching 60 km from just north of the Maroochy River on the Sunshine Coast to the full length of Moreton Island.An eight kilometre area south of Cape Moreton was the most heavily oiled. Moreton, and Bribie Island to the its north, are national parks - home to a range of sea birds and creatures, including turtles, dolphins and pelicans.

The ship was still leaking oil into the Brisbane River when it berthed. It was then that a second hole in its hull was discovered.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Don Henry, described the northern tip of Moreton Island as an oily wasteland. “This area,” he said,” is home to bottlenose dolphins, dugongs and a treasure trove of other marine species. Turtles lay their eggs in the sand of these beaches. Beachstone curlews and sooty oyster catchers nest just above the high tide mark.”

Professor Professor Ravi Naidu -- Managing Director of the Co-operative Research Centre For Contamination Assessment And Remediation Of The Environment (CRC CARE) was quoted by Australian Science Media Centre as saying that the incident can potentially have a very significant impact on the aquatic ecosystem. “Looking at the Queensland coast,” he said,” we have a pristine environment. What this spill can do is impact these sensitive aquatic environment and in doing so it can impact the lifecycle of the marine ecosystem. The problem with this is that the oil spill will not disappear quickly. It will be present in the aquatic environment for a while. All it will do is disperse, and after dispersing the oil and the lubricant can be there not just for months, but for years unless we actively remediate it. Remediation and management of the oil spill can cost millions of dollars.”

These concerns have been echoed by the local fishing industry. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) told ABC News that the oil slick and lost containers of ammonium nitrate are crippling the local fishing industry.

QSIA spokesman Neil Green said that the Environment Protection Authority has not acted quickly enough to locate the 31 containers. "If they went and did their homework on what this fertiliser can do out there - and I'm sure they already know it - they would be having a far bigger response and doing something about it," he said..

"We're talking about over 600 tonne in one small area, right in the middle of a marine park - you would expect these guys to be jumping up and down."

The threat posed by the ammonium nitrate was also stressed by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) .The union said that volatile cargoes, particularly ammonium nitrate, should be regulated on the Australian coast and pristine waterways.

"It shouldn't be left to the lowest possible international shipper using the cheapest international crews," said Mick Doleman, MUA Assistant National Secretary. "These containers pose a serious and immediate danger to navigation as well as presenting a major environmental catastrophe. At this stage nobody can estimate how damaging the effects of 600 tonne of ammonium nitrate slowly leaching out of these boxes will have on our coast."

Captain John Watkinson of Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) told ABC News that all 31 containers are still missing."Some of them can float but I think in the sea conditions in all likelihood they've found their way to the bottom," he said.

The spill could not have occurred at a worse time for the Bligh ALP government. In the middle of a state election campaign , dedicated to supporting the state’s coal industry and completing the Mary River Dam at Traveston the party’s environment credentials were already in tatters before the oil spill occurred. Criticism of the government’s slow response to the disaster was met with excuses.

“The ships owners told us 20 to 30 tonnes “ complained Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, "It is now apparent that it was about 230 tonnes."

But it was up to ACF spokespeson Don Henry to note the real significance of the disaster,” For goodness sake,” he said,” the Government must get serious about tackling climate change. This ship was hit by the tail end of a category 5 cyclone. Just as Victoria will experience dramatically increased days of extreme bushfire weather, the science is telling us Queensland will cop more destructive cyclones unless we make big cuts to greenhouse pollution.

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