Freighter Beached Off Australian Coast Still Intact

Maritime officials said Sunday they were hopeful of freeing a 40,000 ton coal freighter that became stuck on a sand bank in stormy seas, prompting fears of an oil spill.

Officials had worried that unusually strong waves pounding the coast would crack the hull of the Panama-registered ship Pasha Bulker, possibly spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel oil and diesel into the sea.

New South Wales state maritime chief Neil Patchett said three of the ship's 21 Filipino crew were airlifted onto the stricken vessel Sunday and managed to restore power, test onboard control systems and start up the ship's generators.

He said there will still no sign of leakage from the 738-foot coal freighter, which was pushed onto a beach in heavy storms off the port city of Newcastle early Friday.

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"The hull seems to be in pretty good shape," Patchett said. "There's every hope that a plan to safely remove the ship from the beach will be progressed pretty quickly."

Salvage vessels and additional crews were being brought in from other states and overseas to help in the operation, but Patchett said it was too early to say when the ship could be floated.

Meanwhile, an oil spill contingency plan was still in place with dozens of personnel from several authorities on standby in case of an environmental disaster.

The ship had no cargo aboard, and no one was injured when the ship ran around, but it was carrying about 205,800 gallons of fuel oil, 11,170 gallons of diesel and 11,760 gallons of lubricating oil.

Planes have flown over the stricken ship several times since it became stranded, but have seen no sign of leakage.

"The good thing is that even though it's been taking a pounding, there have been no reports of visible signs of pollution," Patchett said.

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