On 17 July 2015 AMSA Search and Rescue contacted our Marine Environment Pollution Response (MEPR) Duty Officer regarding the report of a possible oil spill approximately 30 nautical miles from Cape Upstart, Queensland.
A fisherman had traversed through what he thought was an oil slick early on the morning of 16 July and then traversed through it again on his return back to shore that evening. Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) was informed of the spill the following morning and relevant agencies were notified. MSQ sent personnel down to speak to the fisherman and to visually assess the vessel, as there was residue on its hull. MSQ advised that there was a high probability that the substance covering the vessel’s hull was oil and a sample was taken for further analysis and investigation. The MEPR Duty Officer requested further clarification on the location and size of the slick and advised our resources were available if needed.
MSQ worked with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) officers in Townville to manage the incident and further investigate the source of the spill. A helicopter was sent to the area by MSQ and a sheen was identified and the location verified. Queensland Water Police was then tasked to head out to the location and take samples of the oil.
MSQ requested AMSA assistance for Oil Spill Trajectory Modelling and the use of the Dornier aircraft to do a visual search of the area the next morning.
A request was also put forward to us for a historical surface picture (SURPIC). The SURPIC used the Automatic Vessel Identification System (AIS) to identify all vessels that were in the vicinity of the spill in the 24 hours prior to the incident being reported. A number of vessels were identified as having been in the area at the time of the spill. Our surveyors from several different locations undertook oil sampling from these vessels as they came into port.
The National Plan stockpile in Townsville was placed on ‘lean forward’ alert and the contractor remained on standby in the event the equipment was required to be deployed.
On 18 July our Dornier aircraft undertook line scans using UV detection, which failed to pick up any sign of the oil slick. As there were no further sightings of the oil, incident control moved into standby mode to wait and see if oil hit the beaches as predicted by spill trajectory modelling. We participated in the daily teleconferences between MSQ, GBRMPA and Queensland Government authorities to maintain a situational awareness.
On 23 July MSQ received a report of oil patties in the water near Fantome Island. This was the first of many sightings along several beaches (see map). An Incident Control Centre in Townsville was stood up and a multiagency activation was initiated.
On 26 July two of our officers were deployed to Townsville to assist with the incident, taking on the roles of adviser to the Incident Management team and shoreline assessment in Ingham. An additional officer was deployed to Ingham on 28 July to assist MSQ with shoreline clean-up operations.
On Friday 31 July our personnel were stood down, as the incident wound down and moved into ‘monitor and watch’ status. MSQ personnel continued to clean beaches and offshore islands in the following weeks.