ROCKHAMPTON, Australia - Workers rushed to contain an oil
spill Monday from a coal-carrying ship grounded on Australia's
Great Barrier Reef, sending two tugboats to stabilize the vessel so
that it would not break apart and further damage the fragile coral
The Chinese-registered Shen Neng 1 rammed into Douglas Shoals
late Saturday, an area that has shipping restrictions in order to
protect what is the world's largest coral reef and one that is
listed as a World Heritage site because of its gleaming waters and
environmental value as home to thousands of marine species.
About 2 tons (metric tons) of oil have already spilled from the
1,000 tons (950 metric tons) of fuel on board, creating a 100-yard
(meter) slick that stretches 2 miles (3 kilometers), Marine Safety
Queensland said in a statement.
Queensland State Premier Anna Bligh said a boom will be put
around the ship by Tuesday to contain oil leaking from the hull.
Aircraft sprayed chemical dispersants in an effort to break up the
"Our No. 1 priority is keeping this oil off the Barrier Reef
and keeping it contained," she told reporters in Brisbane.
Bligh said a salvage team had reached the ship Monday and were
attempting to stabilize it.
"It's in such a delicate part of the reef and the ship is in
such a badly damaged state, managing this process will require all
the specialist expertise we can bring to bear," she told
Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. She said it could take weeks
to dislodge the ship.
The ship's owner, Shenzhen Energy, a subsidiary of the Cosco
Group that is China's largest shipping operator, could be fined up
to 1 million Australian dollars ($920,000) for straying from a
shipping lane used by 6,000 cargo vessels each year, Bligh said.
"This is a very delicate part of one of the most precious
marine environments on earth and there are safe authorized shipping
channels - and that's where this ship should have been," Bligh
Authorities fear the ship will break apart during the salvage
operation and wreck more coral, or spill more of its heavy fuel oil
into the sun-soaked sea. However, Bligh said the risk of the ship
breaking apart appeared to have lessened since the first of two tug
boats arrived and reduced its movement.
Two tugs arrived Monday to stabilize the ship, Marine Safety
"One of the most worrying aspects is that the ship is still
moving on the reef to the action of the seas, which is doing
further damage" to the coral and hull, according to the agency's
general manager, Patrick Quirk. Initial damage reports showed
flooding in the main engine room and damage to the main engine and
A police boat was standing by to evacuate the 23 crew members if
the ship breaks apart.
The bulk carrier was taking about 72,000 tons (65,000 metric
tons) of coal to China from the Queensland port of Gladstone when
it slammed into the shoals off Queensland's coast in the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Numerous conservation groups have expressed outrage that bulk
carriers can travel through the reef without a specialized marine
pilot. Shipping lanes in Australian waters typically require a
seasoned captain to go aboard an incoming ship to help navigate
around hazards. Until now, the government has said there is no need
for a marine pilots around the protected area because large ships
are banned there.
Maritime law specialist Michael White of the University of
Queensland said oil is the major environmental threat posed by the
grounding. While coal could do "considerable localized damage,"
it would be quick to dissipate.
Marine geologist Greg Webb from the Queensland University of
Technology said the effects of an oil and coal spill could have
"In the past we always just thought a reef could put up with
anything," he told ABC radio. "And I guess over the last decade
or so, we're beginning to understand that maybe they can't."