Harbour spill remains mystery, GPC points to coal fines

OUTRAGE: A concerned local is outraged after finding oil in the water at the wharf in front of the Gladstone Ports Corporation last Friday.
OUTRAGE: A concerned local is outraged after finding oil in the water at the wharf in front of the Gladstone Ports Corporation last Friday. Contributed

AN INVESTIGATION by the Gladstone Ports Corporation into photographs of an alleged oil spill in Gladstone harbour has revealed the substance to be coal fines.

Coal fines are the small particles of coal material that are washed-off the coal during the preparation plant process.

The GPC could not pin-point what caused coal fines to be in the water on Friday.

A GPC spokeswoman said it was suspected the material had spilled out from one of the wharf's sample plants.

GPC said sample plants were operated by external parties on behalf of coal customers.

"Whilst situated on the wharf, (they) are not operated by GPC," she said.

GPC said it had invested $5.4 million to commission the first of three phases to completely seal sample plants on its wharf, along with other environmental improvements.

This project has three phases with the first expected to be complete by end 2013.

Maritime Safety Queensland confirmed Friday's spill, identified by a concerned local, was never officially reported.

A spokesperson for MSQ said public reporting of possible pollution incidents were important in order to identify the contaminant and, if required, start a clean-up or investigation.

GPC said although MSQ was responsible for all water-based spills in the harbour; investigations were carried out for all reported incidents and were recorded in their management system.

"Once an incident is reported, GPC will act as their first strike response and report back to MSQ in order for them to react appropriately," a GPC spokesperson said.

Owner and operator of AB Marine services Adam Balkin.
Owner and operator of AB Marine services Adam Balkin. Brenda Strong

GPC said harbour oil spills were rare, usually minor and many remained unresolved.

It said spills were the result of oil leaking from vessels, or from commercial activities.

AB Marine services owner and operator Adam Balkin, who used to work for the GPC as an oil spill responder, said it was important the community report any spills or toxins in the harbour.

He said oil spills were not taken lightly.

"It is uncommon for big oil spills to not be reported," he said.

"There are strict guidelines in place to make sure people do report, because if you don't the penalty is worse."

The penalty for deliberately discharging oil or chemicals into Queensland waters is $550,000 for an individual and $11 million for a corporation.