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Australian coast covered in petrol

AUTHORITIES declared parts of Australia's east coast a disaster area yesterday after tonnes of oil from a damaged cargo ship contaminated several popular beaches.

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 said, adding the ship could carry 100 tons of oil.

At least 60 kilometers of beach coastline had been covered by the slick, which came from the ship Pacific Adventurer after it was damaged on Tuesday in heavy seas generated by tropical cyclone Hamish.

"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.

Environment experts said the clean-up would be delicate as cyclonic seas and high tides continued to erode beaches and push the oil up rivers. But the seas were also helping to break up the slick and push it offshore, they said.


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