Australian Oil & Chemical Spill highlights issues of transportation safety

Environmental Issues
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The Australian state of Queensland declared parts of the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Island and Bribie Island disaster zones after a container ship belonging to the Swire Group leaked fuel during a storm. The oil spill has contaminated about 37 miles of pristine beaches and mangroves, reports say. Queensland’s Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said today the spill was about 230 tons, reports Bloomberg here.
The oil spill was caused when the ship that was carrying containers of Ammonium Nitrate was buffeted in a storm, leading to some 31 containers being thrown overboard into the sea. One of these same containers apparently banged against the ship’s hull, piercing it’s fuel tanks and causing the oil spill.
While everybody has been focused on the oil spill, there has been no coverage on what is being done regarding the ammonium nitrate filled containers. Were they recovered intact? Has any ammonium nitrate leaked into the sea? How much? What are the consequences?
In industrial plants, a lot of care is taken while designing the plant to ensure safety of operations. In the past twenty years, especailly since the Bhopal disaster, the worldwide chemical industry has become more safety conscious, with an impressive track record. However these chemicals after manufacture have to be shipped to various parts of the world in large quantities and this accident has exposed how much more vulnerable we are to such happenings. The plant that produced this ammonium nitrate may be very safe, with not a singel case of environmentally unsafe discharge, but the transportation of this chemical has led to a big environmental incident.
Local authorities, worldwide standards bodies and engineering professionals should now re-think how we can make transportation of chemicals as safe as their production and use.

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