AUSTRALIA MARRED BY MAJOR OIL SPILL

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Called worst environmental disaster of east coast

The premier of the north-eastern Australian state affected by an oil spill this week says it's the worst environmental accident faced by the region.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has declared the area a disaster zone.

About 40 kilometres of coastline are coated in black oil.

Up to 100,000 litres leaked from the Pacific Adventurer after it was damaged in rough seas on Wednesday.

The Premier says the spill is much bigger than the shipping company originally reported, and the effect will be widespread.

"It may well be the worst environmental disaster South East Queensland has ever seen," she says.

Moreton and Bribie islands - and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast - have been declared disaster zones. There's been widespreaad criticism of the government's handling of the disaster.

Ms Bligh says crews had to wait until seas calmed and tides receded to start the clean-up.

Crews will be working to remove oil from beaches today.

The owners of a Hong Kong-registered container ship that leaked oil on beaches in northeastern Australia say they will meet their responsibilities with the clean-up.

Oil from the Pacific Adventurer coated beaches in the state of Queensland including those on Moreton and Bribie Islands, and the Sunshine coast.

The ship was damaged in heavy winds and rough seas, caused by a cyclone which has since eased.

Earlier Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the ship's owners, Swire Shipping, would be held accountable.

Official response triggers criticism

Queensland Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg says he was misled when he was told the spill was under control.

"It's either been a coverup or absolutely incompetently mishandled."

Greens Leader Bob Brown says he can't understand why the federal and state governments are so unprepared.

"The failure of the governments here is quite astonishing."

A briefing was held for authorities in Brisbane last night.

The government refused to comment on what plans are being put in place for today.

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