Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Oil "patties" that washed up on a large stretch of beach at world heritage listed Fraser Island could have been in the water "for some time" before they were discovered

Fraser Coast oil spill: Dozens of specialists sent over for cleanup

Amy Mitchell-Whittington

Oil "patties" that washed up on a large stretch of beach at world heritage listed Fraser Island could have been in the water "for some time" before they were discovered, Queensland's environment minister says.

About a dozen clean-up crews were on a 40 kilometre stretch of beach between the wreck of the Maheno, north of Eurong and Dilli Village assessing and cleaning up oil samples varying in size between 10c pieces to $5 notes. The oil "patties" were spotted along the 40 kilometre stretch of beach. Photo: 7 News Brisbane / Facebook

Rangers first spotted the patties late Monday afternoon after a number had washed ashore on the world's largest sand island.

Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said helicopter searches of the area had been unable to identify an oil spill in the water, however he was not ruling it out. An image of one of the oil "patties". Photo: Sarah Best / 7 News Queensland

"A helicopter searched the ocean around that area and has been unable to identify an oil spill in the water," he said.

"Oil like this could travel below the water level in which case it would not be visible from the helicopter.

"It is possible this oil has been in the water for some time and only just now washed up with the tide.

"During that period of time, the oil spreads out and results in smaller amounts of oil washing up in smaller patties." The oil spill has been detected along 40 kilometres of beach on Fraser Island. Photo: Rachel Lewis

Dr Miles said dozens of boats had travelled through that section of ocean recently and said the oil could have come from a larger vessel.

"If it is just the oil on the beach currently then it could be from a wide range of vessels," he said.

"Often though we identify a large amount of oil still in the ocean in which case it is more likely to be a larger ship but it is difficult to tell."

It is understood no wildlife had been impacted by the oil so far.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said an incident control centre had been activated at Gladstone to clean up the patties as quickly as possible.

"Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers are on standby to be involved in clean-up as required," Mr Quirk said.

"Rangers will also conduct reconnaissance of Rainbow Beach and Double Island Point as a precaution."

Fraser Island Association president David Anderson said there were a number of shore birds that could be impacted.

"There are turtles, but not in that area, they are normally further north, up towards Sandy Cape," he said.

Dr Miles said the government would investigate once the immediate impacts were dealt with.

"We have seen with recent oil spill events, the government can investigate, can take oil sources from foreign ports and then track the source of that oil," he said.

Most recently, a six-year-saga ended with a $39.3 million out-of-court settlement between the federal government and the owners of a Chinese coal carrier that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010.

Staff from Dr Miles' office said Ports Minister Mark Bailey would be handling further enquiries relating to the oil spill.

Minister Bailey said a barge delivered a dozen specialist oil clean-up workers with equipment on Tuesday afternoon for work to begin Wednesday morning.

"Around two dozen officers from Maritime Safety Queensland, Roadtek, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Queensland Police Service will begin scouring the beach tomorrow morning following an initial assessment of the area today," he said.

The spill appeared to be smaller than the spill last year when 15 tonnes of oil washed up off Cape Upstart