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QLD: Tanker captain ordered to surrender passport

15 Mar 2009 10:58 PM

BRISBANE, March 15 AAP - Maritime authorities have served legal papers on the captain of the cargo ship responsible for the massive oil spill along Queensland's southeast coast and ordered him to surrender his passport.

Maritime authorities, accompanied by police, on Sunday handed the captain of the Pacific Adventurer legal papers directing him to remain on the ship while investigations continue.

The shipping company is facing a multi-million dollar clean-up bill in addition to possible fines of up to $2 million.

Queensland's Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said the captain's passport was in the hands of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"He is required to stay on board the ship," Mr Lucas said in a statement.

"This will allow investigators to comprehensively investigate the facts and circumstances around the two oil spills last week.

"These investigations will include why only 30 tonnes of oil was first reported to have been spilled by the ship, when the true figure is now believed to be around 250 tonnes."

Hundreds continue a major clean-up of the worst environmental disaster to hit Queensland's shores - the Pacific Adventurer also lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate overboard in heavy seas which had been whipped up cyclone Hamish.

All major destination beaches on the Sunshine Coast have now reopened with more than 50 per cent of affected beaches cleared of oil.

Mr Lucas said he expected a clean bill of health for all Sunshine Coast and Bribie Island beaches in a matter of days.

On Moreton Island, logistically more difficult because of its location, 25 per cent of areas impacted by oil are now clean, thanks to volunteers working by hand and helped by the tides.

"There's still a big job in front of us but I'd like to thank the workers for the difference they've already made," Mr Lucas said.

He said the cost of the clean-up would be massive.

"It will run into many millions of dollars," Mr Lucas said.

"It's a federal investigation because the accident happened in Australian waters not in Queensland waters.

"Federal maritime authorities are leading the investigation."

The Swire Shipping company faces possible fines of up to $2 million and an environmental damage bill of $250 million while the ship's captain could be lumped with a $200,000 fine.

Maritime Safety officers are continuing their investigations into the vessel's seaworthiness.

Booms remain in place around the Pacific Adventurer following a second oil leak last week while the cargo ship was docked at Brisbane's Hamilton wharf.

Premier Anna Bligh has defended the time it took to start the clean-up.

"I can understand people think it's a good idea to get out there from day one and start cleaning up," Ms Bligh told ABC TV on Sunday.

"But the reality is we still have oil coming onto the beach. You don't take it off the beach until you know it's all there otherwise we are stripping layers of sand that have already been eroded by cyclonic activities."

Tourism Queensland met with a number of interest groups on Sunday to discuss a recovery plan for the tourism industry after the clean-up.