Australia seeks $18 m over toxic oil spill

SYDNEY: Australia will seek more than 18 million US dollars in compensation from a Hong Kong-based shipping company over a massive toxic oil spill during a wild storm, officials said.

Swire Shipping's cargo liner Pacific Adventurer released about 200,000 litres (53,000 US gallons) of heavy fuel oil off the coast of Queensland state as it travelled through cyclonic weather on March 11.

Vast stretches of popular tourist beaches were blackened by the sludge, which spilled from the hull after it was pierced by fertiliser containers as they fell overboard in heavy seas.

It was one of Australia's worst-ever oil spills.

Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan said the two-month clean-up was officially over and had cost a total of 25 million Australian dollars (18.3 million US).

"We have a guarantee from Swire for 20 million dollars and we will now pursue them for the remaining cost," Nolan told Australian Associated Press.

"The taxpayers of Queensland did not cause this disaster and they should not end up paying for any part of it."

"I would hope that Swire will cover this cost as a simple matter of corporate responsibility."

Nolan said more than 3,000 tonnes of contaminated sand had been removed from Moreton Island, the nearest land to the spill site, and restoration work was still being done at a number of local wetlands.

The ship's Filipino captain, Bernardino Gonzalos Santos, 47, has been charged with illegally discharging oil, and faces fines of up to 350,000 dollars.

A preliminary transport bureau investigation released last month into the accident found Santos set course toward Queensland despite knowing extreme weather lay ahead.

Nolan said the local and Australian governments were both taking legal advice on further court action over the incident.

Swire faces 1.5 million dollars (977,000 US dollars) in fines if found guilty of environmental or maritime breaches.