Oil spill spells tragedy for tourism along Australia’s Sunshine Coast


The Australian state of Queensland will “pull out all stops” to restore tourist traffic before the Easter holidays to areas including its Sunshine Coast tainted by an oil spill “substantially” larger than estimated.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh declared parts of the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Island, and Bribie Island disaster zones after a container ship leaked fuel oil in a storm, threatening populations of turtles, pelicans, and other wildlife. The slick has contaminated about 60 kilometers (37 miles) of beach and mangroves, the Australian newspaper reported today.

“Preparations are ongoing to restore all beach areas as soon as possible, but there is no denying that this is a tragedy for the affected regions,” Tourism Minister Desley Boyle said. Tourism Queensland has begun work on a marketing campaign before the “crucial Easter holiday period” she said today in a statement.

Swire Shipping, operator of the MV Pacific Adventurer said yesterday the vessel discharged “substantially more” heavy fuel oil than previously estimated.

Queensland’s Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said today the spill was about 230 tons, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Earlier estimates were that some 20 metric tons of heavy fuel oil had leaked from the vessel. Moreton Island – about 40 kilometers off Brisbane – is the worst affected spot, ABC said.

The accident occurred when 31 containers carrying ammonium nitrate washed overboard in rough seas whipped up by Tropical Cyclone Hamish, piercing the hull of the Pacific Adventurer.

More than 100 rescue workers have been deployed to help repair the damage north of the state capital, Brisbane, and more are on standby, the Queensland state government said.

Boyle said selected Sunshine Coast beaches will be closed for at least the next 24 hours, while four-wheel-drive access to Moreton Island will be closed until March 16. Beaches on the ocean side of Moreton Island and Ocean Beach on Bribie Island are closed to all campers and vehicles until further notice, she said.