Australia battles to stabilise Barrier Reef ship

The owners of a Chinese bulk coal carrier that ran aground and spilt oil on the Great Barrier Reef could be fined up to A$1 million, Australia's Queensland state said.

Australia battles to stabilise Barrier Reef ship

The owners of a Chinese bulk coal carrier that ran aground and spilt oil on the Great Barrier Reef could be fined up to A$1 million ($920,000), the leader of Australia's Queensland state said on Monday.

Salvagers were struggling to prevent the Shen Neng I breaking up in pristine waters off the country's northeastern coast, potentially spilling hundreds of tons of oil over the reef, which is one of Australia's top tourist attractions.

The ship slammed into Douglas Shoal on Saturday travelling at full speed and significantly away from normal shipping lanes.

"I think the book should be thrown at this organisation," Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"This is a very delicate part of one of the most precious marine environments on earth and there are safe, authorised shipping channels and that's where this ship should have been."

A government said the vessel was owned by The Shenzhen Energy Group, part of the group of the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, better known by its acronym COSCO.

Investigations are under way by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

A spokeswoman for AMSA said its investigation would be "exploring breaches and possible offences" under Australian law. Some 23 crew were on board the vessel when it ran aground, she said, and so far appeared to be safe.

A spokesman for COSCO in Australia could not immediately be contacted for comment on Monday.

The area is part of a marine park and environmentalists say it is highly vulnerable to pollution.

The head of the government agency overseeing the operation said on Monday that the ship was still moving on the reef, causing further damage. The main engine room had been breached, damaging its rudder and engine, said Patrick Quirk, general manager of Maritime Safety Queensland.

Dispersant had been sprayed to break up the spilt oil and a second tug was due in the area on Monday to help one already there to stabilise the vessel.

The 230-metre (754-ft) ship was carrying 65,000 tonnes of coal to China when it ran aground with 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board. Although only a small amount of oil has leaked so far, rescue officials have said the ship will require a long and careful salvage operation, expected to take weeks.

Last year, an oil spill during a storm polluted large stretches of Queensland beaches and led to a protracted legal dispute between the state government and the ship's owners, Swire Shipping, about the cleanup bill.

Australia is a major exporter of coal. Environmentalists criticise the trade as significantly contributing to global carbon emissions and have called for a halt to plans to expand the industry. However, tourism is also a major earner of foreign exchange and the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland's pristine beaches are among the top tourist attractions.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Nisan 2010, 10:28

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