A drone capture of the sunken barge in the Bellinger River.
A drone capture of the sunken barge in the Bellinger River. Frank Redward

Aerial shots show fuel leaking from sunken river barge

OIL and fuel leaks from a barge which sank in the Bellinger River, south of Coffs Harbour, have been contained ahead of a salvage operation.

Divers and salvage crews are doing an underwater assessment of the barge and sand dredge owned by High Quality Sands before an attempt to refloat it this week.

The barge holding an engine and hydraulic unit and 800L of diesel and hydraulic oil went under on Saturday, sparking fears of environmentally damaging leaks.

However Mid North Coast Fire and Rescue NSW Duty Commander Gavin Muller said the fluids had been contained in booms deployed around the site to soak up contaminants.

The booms were today replaced with new ones.

"Due to the fact that the owner called us as soon as he did, we were able to get there and minimise environmental damage the confine the spill," Mr Muller said.

"The company that owns it followed environmental protocols to the letter.

"They have engaged divers and are looking at recovering the barge and dredge from the bottom of the river this week.

"I understand they will try and lift it out with airbags."

Mr Muller said booms would be used during the salvage operation to float the vessel.

"It will be encapsulated in the boom area; nothing will escape when they bring it up inside that. There will be no further leakage," he said.

The barge is used to extract sand from a shallow point in the river near the old Repton bridge. 

The owner of High Quality Sand confirmed he wanted to salvage the equipment, but would not comment further.

The incident was attended by Fire and Rescue NSW's specialist Hazardous Materials unit and Urunga crew and Transport NSW's maritime unit.

A NSW Transport spokesperson said maritime officers were working with the owner of the dredge, which is insured, and a suitable salvage contractor had been appointed.

They will assess the vessel and aim to start in the next few days, weather permitting, the spokesperson said.

"Up to 500 litres of diesel, up to 300 litres of hydraulic oil and engine oils are reported to have been on board the dredge when it sank," the department spokesperson said.

"Minimal pollution is present and is contained within the boom.

"NSW Maritime is liaising with the key stakeholders including NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), NSW Food Authority, Bellingen Shire Council and the local oyster farmers in relation to the cause of the incident and salvage of the dredge."

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