Mon, Aug 24, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Planes spray slick amid sealife fears

BIODIVERSITY: The WWF said that the region off Australia where the oil slick occurred was a ‘highway’ for wildlife linking the Indian and Pacific oceans

REUTERS , SYDNEY

Aircraft sprayed chemicals to break up a large oil slick off Australia’s northwestern coast yesterday as environmentalists expressed fears for rare wildlife from oil gushing into the sea from an uncapped well.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the slick from the West Atlas offshore drilling rig had lengthened overnight from an estimated 15km on Saturday.

The first sortie of chemical dispersant sprayed yesterday from a C-130 Hercules aircraft appeared to have started to break up the slick, a spokeswoman said. However, the clean-up cannot be completed until the well is capped, which experts say may take days.

“The indications are that the application of the dispersant has been successful,” AMSA spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said. “We are certainly prepared for an ongoing operation.”

Rig operator PTTEP Australasia, a unit of Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production PCL, has flown in a team of experts to try to determine how to cap the well, which first began to leak oil and gas on Friday.

An air exclusion zone has been set up and ships have been advised to stay more than 37km away from the rig, which is currently considered too dangerous to board.

Environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) called yesterday for changes to preparations for such disasters, pointing out it took three days for the first dispersant to be sprayed, despite the region being considered a critical area for biodiversity.

“From a global scale this is one of the most important places on the planet for ocean wildlife,” WWF Australia director of conservation Gilly Llewelyn said.

Among the animals affected were three endangered species of turtles, plus sea snakes, she said. Even a pygmy blue whale has been monitored in what seemed to be an “oceanic highway” linking the Indian and Pacific oceans.

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