The Australian government sent a navy mine hunting ship to search on Monday for hundreds of tons of chemicals lost overboard during a mishap that also blackened miles of beaches with fuel oil.
Authorities said they have scraped the slick off of more than half of the affected beaches just north of the Queensland state capital Brisbane, five days after Wednesday’s spillage from the freighter Pacific Adventurer.
Authorities declared a disaster zone on Friday along 60 kilometers of some of Australia’s most popular beaches, after it became clear the spill was much worse than it was initially thought.
The spill happened when 31 containers lashed to the ship’s deck broke free during a storm and fell overboard, ripping a hole in a fuel tank as they pitched into the sea.
Each of the containers held some 22 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used as fertilizer that can also be explosive if mixed with diesel and detonated.
Authorities say ammonium nitrate dilutes easily in water and that at worst the spilled containers could cause an algal bloom. Still, they should be located and recovered as soon as possible, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said.