Emergency crews speed to clean up oil fuel in eastern Australia

Emergency crews rushed to clean up 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of fuel oil that fouled mangroves near Australia's Great Barrier Reef after two vessels collided, officials said Wednesday. The oil spilled off Gladstone city in the eastern state of Queensland early Wednesday when a ship and tugboat hit each other, said Stewart Sommerlad, a spokesman for Queensland Transport.

A rising tide pushed the oil into a harbor and sensitive mangrove areas, and it gathered in the city's port, said Capt. John Watkinson of Maritime Safety Queensland, who was running the cleanup operation. "Gladstone is quite a big port, and it (the spill) has impacted on some of the estuaries," he said.

There were no immediate reports of wildlife killed by the slick. "The problem with this type of oil (is) when it gets into mangrove, it's very difficult to remove, and it's very labor-intensive" to remove it, Watkinson said.

Lindy Rowett, a spokeswoman for Queensland Transport, said the spill occurred inside Gladstone Harbor and posed no immediate threat to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage-listed marine park stretching almost 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) along the Queensland coast.

Sommerlad said the ship involved, named Global Peace, was Korean, but that he could not specify whether it was North or South. "It was attempting to berth and we understand that there was a collision with a tug, and as a result the hull of the Global Peace was damaged and oil began to escape," he said.

At least 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of heavy fuel entered the water, according to a statement released by Queensland Transport Minister Paul Lucas. Authorities were working Wednesday to contain the spill.

"Oil cleanup experts and equipment, including an oil skimmer, were dispatched to the scene," Lucas said. "Response teams worked through the morning to contain the oil before the tide turned and spread the fuel further into other port areas." Gladstone is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the Queensland state capital, Brisbane, and near the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, reports the AP. N.U.

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