Chinese Coal Ship Aground on Great Barrier Reef

Marine park and top diving destination at risk

If I ruled the world, China would stop mining coal. The cost is too great: frequent fatal mine accidents (the latest just a few days ago), filthy and unhealthy air over much of China from antiquated coal-fired plants and now the “Shen Neng 1,” a Chinese bulk-coal ship that strayed from designated shipping lanes on Saturday and slammed into Australia’s Great Barrier reef at full speed and ran aground on this world wonder.

The reef is a fanastic 1,800-mile barrier reef 60-odd miles off Australia’s northeast coast that is arguably the world’s finest scuba destinations. Great Keppel Island, where the ship ran aground, is a dive destination that boasts “pristine waters. I checked dive blogs and specific Great Keppel Island dive operators and resorts, and astonishingly, none mentioned this incident or its possible effects.

There has not yet been a really major spill of the ship’s 950 tons of oil, but oil patches several miles from the wreck have been spotted from the air. Chemical dispersants were sprayed on the oil on Sunday  The ship, which is about 800 feet long and carried about 65,000 tons of coal, will have to be towed into port.

The BBC reported: “Queensland officials say the ‘Shen Neng 1’ is badly damaged and the salvage operation could take weeks. Fears remain that it could break up, spilling hundreds of tonnes of oil.
Environmentalists are furious about the grounding on Douglas Shoals, well outside the authorised shipping channel. The Chinese-registered ship is balanced precariously off the east coast of Great Keppel Island.
A tug boat is at the scene to help prevent it from keeling over and to assist with any attempt at refloating the stricken vessel. Its Chinese crew have remained on board.” According to a statement in a video that is part of the BBC report, ships are permitted to sail the calmer waters between the Mainland and Queensland without a pilot. Blomberg more recently reported that a second tug is on its way.

Deja Vue All Over Again

On March 11, 2009, the Hong Kong-flagged container ship “Pacific Adventurer” was responsible for a large oil spill that Moreton Island and Sunshine Coast beaches, north of Brisbane The  ship lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate that loose in Cyclose Hamish’s rough seas. Some of the containers pierced the ship’s hull, releasing some 270 tons of oil into the ocean. The captain was charged with violating marine-pollution laws but permitted to leave Australia.

In August 2009, the Australian and Queensland Governments and its owner, Swire Shipping, reached an  agreement, under which the transport company was to pay $25 million in damages. This far exceeds Swire’s legal obligation of $17.5 million for compensation. The overage was to go to a trust specially established to help improve marine protection and maritime safety. The “Shen Neng 1” accident might put it to use. Who knows what will happen to the captain — and whether China’s Cosco Group will pay a potential $921,500 fine — far too little, IMHO.

Ironically, Cosco’s website boasts that it is committed to the UN’s Global Compact, whose cornerstones are “aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.” Environment. Slamming a ship into a marine park is a serious misalignment.

The Great Barrier Reef is a world wonder, home to some 400 coral species (the most in the world), 1,500 species of tropical fish, 4,000 types of mollusks, 200 types of birds, 20 types of reptiles. It is also the habitat for a number of threatened species such as the dugong (“sea cow”) and large green turtle. Additionally, it is an important breeding area for humpback whales that migrate from Antarctica.

I have a special affection for the Great Barrier Reef. After snorkeling off Lady Musgrave Island, one of thousands of little land outcroppings, back in 1987, I decided to get my scuba certification, because I wanted to participate in underwater life, not simply to float on top as spectator. I’m now a certified diver but never managed to return to Australia. Since my visit, we’ve become aware that this reef, like all others on the planet, is under chronic assault from climate change, but a ship running aground and spilling oil or other harmless substances is acute trauma.

3 thoughts on “Chinese Coal Ship Aground on Great Barrier Reef”

  1. Well, I just hope that the Australian Govt would do something about this ASAP. I love the place and would be very sad if it will contain oils. A lot of marine life will be surely devastated.

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