Joshua Robertson, The Guardian, July 18, 2015
Australian authorities remain on alert for a potential oil spill in waters around the Great Barrier Reef despite finding little sign of a reported kilometre-long slick off the north Queensland coast.
Maritime safety authorities in Queensland confirmed that small patches of oily water were seen in waters south of Townsville where a fisherman had earlier reported seeing a slick close to 1km long.
Aircraft from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will renew the search for evidence of the oil spill early on Saturday, the third aerial search in 24 hours after the reported sighting 18 nautical miles off Cape Upstart national park.
Government agencies remain on standby to deal with a potential environmental emergency. The reef is considered one of the world’s most important natural wonders, but is under threat from warmer ocean temperatures caused by climate change and local pollution from dredging to create new ports.
A spokeswoman for Marine Safety Queensland said: “A water police vessel out of Townsville and Emergency Management Queensland helicopter investigated and reported a sheen on the water and small oily patches about one metre in diameter.”
The oil slick was reported off the coast of Townsville The oil slick was reported off the coast of Townsville.
She said the specialised AMSA aircraft would fly out of Cairns on Saturday for “an early morning inspection tomorrow of the ocean area and also of the islands and coastline in the general areas”.
MSQ confirmed it found “oily residue” on the fisherman’s boat, after he reported seeing the slick on Friday morning.
“Maritime Safety Queensland has oil pollution resources and staff on standby if required in Townsville and other ports,” the spokeswoman said.
Other agencies, AMSA, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and Maritime Safety Queensland are also on standby.
The spokeswoman said those agencies would meet tomorrow to “consider information reported from the morning flight [and] response options”.
Ted Winterbottom from Townsville’s Coast Guard told Fairfax Media that any oil would be blown away from the coast on Saturday before the winds switched in the afternoon.
“At the moment in the morning we are getting westerly winds, which would tend to blow it away from the shore,” he said. “But in the afternoon, they get come in a south-westerly, which is the reverse.”
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