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Oil spill off the coast of Australia worse than initially thought

An oil spill off Australia's northeast coast leaked ten times more oil than originally thought, a government official told the Associated Press Saturday.

Dozens of beaches in Queensland along a 37 mile coastline have been declared disaster zones after being covered in heavy fuel oil that spilled from a Swire Shipping ship, the Pacific Adventurer, on Wednesday.

Yahoo! News reported that the spill was initially estimated at 20 to 30 tons (5,300 to 7,900 gallons). Queensland state Deputy Premier Paul Lucas told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Saturday that it is "now apparent" the amount of oil spilled was around 230 tons (60,700 gallons).

Swire Shipping told Yahoo! News that an inspection of the hull by a diver found damage was greater than initially believed.

Containers of fertilizer had slipped from the ship's deck while it was being rocked in the seas by Cyclone Hamish and ripped a hole in a fuel tank.

AP reported that Queensland officials accused the company of misleading the government about the size of the spill. Premier Anna Bligh told AP that the initial estimate lead officials to predict there would be little environmental damage.

National parks at Moreton and Bribie islands were hardest hit by the oil, according to AP. Moreton Bay is a marine sanctuary and home to a range of sea birds as well as turtles, dolphins and pelicans.

The Environmental Protection Agency told AP no dead wildlife has been found so far.

Yahoo! News reported that Swire could face $977,000 in fines if found guilty of environmental or maritime breaches. The Associated Press said Swire could be fined up to $1.3 million and could be liable for up to $160 million more in penalties for causing environmental damage.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority told AP the ship would not be allowed to leave until officials were satisfied the spill had been explained. Yahoo! News reported Swire had to launch a separate clean-up effort on Friday to clean the oil leaked as the ship was being brought to port.

The New York Times reported the Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers that held 620 metric tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and that the containers have not been found.

Experts fear the fertilizer could cause harmful algal blooms, suffocate fish and kill natural habitats, according to Yahoo! News.