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Australian navy helps oil spill efforts

The slick has contaminated a 60km (40 mile) stretch of the region's beaches. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Melbourne (AFP) March 16, 2009
The Australian navy was deployed Monday to help clean up after a major oil and chemical spill, as legal action began against the captain of the cargo ship responsible for the pollution.

A navy minesweeper will help find 31 containers of the fertiliser ammonium nitrate lost overboard when the "Pacific Adventurer" hit heavy weather off northeast Australia, Queensland state Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said.

The containers held more than 600 tonnes of the powerful chemical, which has the potential to create toxic algal blooms along ecologically sensitive beaches and marine sanctuaries on the Queensland coast.

The Hong Kong-flagged vessel lost the containers and 250,000 litres (55,000 gallons) of oil, creating an environmental disaster that has blackened the area's pristine beaches and sparked concerns for wildlife.

Authorities said the metal containers not only posed an environmental risk if they leak, but they could also threaten shipping channels.

"Our priority is to take every step to minimise the environmental risk and danger to shipping that these containers pose," Lucas said.

"This navy minehunter is equipped with sonar technology for deep sea survey. It provides us with the kind of specialist and technological capability required to locate the missing containers."

About 700 people are working to clear fouled beaches, with a 25-kilometre (15.5-mile) stretch of Moreton Island the worst affected.

Authorities served legal papers on the cargo ship's captain late Sunday ordering him to surrender his passport and remain onboard the vessel docked in Brisbane during investigations into the environmental disaster.

Queensland authorities have accused the ship's operators of misleading them about the extent of the disaster, initially estimating it had lost 20-30,000 litres of oil but then revising the figure tenfold.

The ship's owner, Swire Shipping, denied lying. It has said the captain and crew will remain on the vessel as long as required by authorities and fully cooperate with investigations.

The company faces the prospect of heavy fines and a multi-million-dollar clean-up bill arising from the disaster.

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Main Federal Disaster Relief Law Has Fallen Behind Modern Threat Levels
New York NY (SPX) Mar 14, 2009
In new research published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, New York University Professor Mitchell Moss explains that the cornerstone Federal disaster relief legislation, the Robert T. Stafford Act, is dangerously out of date, and must be reformed to provide for rapid relief after a catastrophe.

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