As one of the busiest harbours in the world, Sydney Harbour has seen its fair share of action since Captain Cook first sighted it. From the white sails of the First Fleet, to Japanese mini submarines, to the great bulk of modern cruise ships, there have been few dull moments on these blue waters.
But with this action comes the potential for disaster. Sydney has long served as an oil port, with Gore Bay currently the largest oil port in the harbour, accompanied by several others scattered through the port. They serve an important purpose, providing a much-needed resource to this growing city. But they have also had a number of incidents, and Sydney has been obliged to break out their spill kits on more than one occasion.
Numerous smaller spills are recorded each year in these busy waters, typically by accident or carelessness. But in 1999, in Gore Bay, a far larger oil spill occurred, courtesy of the Italian tanker Laura D’Amato. While sitting alongside the dock here, an open sea valve resulted in the loss of over 300 tons of oil.
Spill kits were nevertheless broken out to protect the Sydney Harbour shore, and booms surrounded the vessel soon after the spill was noticed. Some did escape, however, and this unsightly stain on the blue waters of the harbour resulted in a public relations nightmare for Shell, who had been fined for a smaller incident at the same dock four years before. In this case, the oil was a light sweet crude variety, which tended to break down and dissipate before it caused too much damage to local wildlife. Quick responses, and good practice, were pivotal to averting a larger catastrophe.