Salvage crews attempt to move beached freighter in Australia

Salvage crews' attempts to shift a 40,000-ton coal freighter with hundreds of thousands of liters (gallons) of fuel oil from a sandbar were in jeopardy Friday after two tow lines snapped.

The Panama-registered ship Pasha Bulker had no cargo aboard when it ran aground in stormy conditions on June 8, but it was carrying more than 859,000 liters (227,000 gallons) of fuel and oil, prompting fears of an ecological disaster.

Taking advantage of an unusually high tide, two tugs were attempting to pull the 35 million Australian dollar (US$29.5 million; 22 million EUR) coal carrier off the sand bank at Nobby's Beach in the eastern port city of Newcastle, around 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Sydney.

One of the cables connecting a tug to the stranded freighter snapped Thursday, and a line to a second tug snapped shortly after sunrise Friday.

The Pasha Bulker was then secured only by a line to a third tug, and lines to three sea anchors.

The ship's outer hull was slightly damaged when it ran over a reef before becoming beached, and New South Wales state Transport Minister Joe Tripodi said the salvage operation could be abandoned if there were signs of further breaks.

"It will depend on how the damaged ship responds to the pushing, the pulling and the lifting that's occurring (to) shift the ship," Tripodi told reporters in Newcastle Thursday.

"It is a flexible plan, it will change with the circumstances," he later told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Meanwhile, environmental crews were patrolling the beach with flashlights searching for signs of leakage from the 225-meter (738-foot) ship, which is carrying 700 tons (about 205,800 gallons) of fuel oil, 38 tons (about 11,170 gallons) of diesel and 40 tons (about 11,760 gallons) of lubricating oil.