Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia; via Flickr CC
Last Saturday morning, a coal-carrying ship - the Chinese Shen Neng 1 - ran around on Douglas Shoals in the Great Barrier Reef. The ship was inside a marine protected area. It then rammed into the reef, and leaked about 4 tons of heavy fuel causing a roughly 3 km oil slick. Teams are working to stabilize and remove the ship from the reef, but the captain and crew seem to think that the wreck is no big deal. Despite facing a potential fine of around $1 million AUD, they apparently aren't grasping how much of a problem this action is causing. Earth Times reports that as booms were placed to keep more fuel from leaking as it was pumped from the ship, Captain Wang Jichang belittled the danger to the world's largest reef system and Australia's foremost tourist attraction.
"Ren Gongping, the Chinese consul in Brisbane, told reporters that Wang had complained to him that salvors aboard the 230-metre vessel were using up its food and drinking water supplies."
Ren stated that the leakage isn't serious so far. Firstly, any leak is serious. Secondly, that's beside the point. The Shen Neng 1 should never have been inside the Great Barrier Marine Park in the first place.
"If the Chinese crew are under any illusion that this is a minor incident, I'm sure that when they get off the boat and see what the world has to say, they'll understand a bit more clearly just how serious this is," Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said. And Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to take action against those at fault for the wreck.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the ship was outside normal shipping lanes but still in a designated Great Barrier Reef shipping lane, yet it was off course from that by about 12 nautical miles when it ran aground. The authorities don't know why it was off course, and that's where suspicion of the captain trying to take a short cut comes into play. Investigators think that it's possible the wreck was caused human error, and not the captain purposefully ignoring the lanes.