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Ship collision leaves reef 'scar'
Grounding of Chinese ship caused "significant" damage to Barrier Reef, officials say.
Last Modified: 13 Apr 2010 05:28 GMT
Heavy fuel oil leaking from the Shen Neng 1 caused
a 3-kilometer slick across the reef [AFP]

The Chinese ship that ran aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef has caused "significant" damage and left a large scar where its massive weight ground down on the reef's delicate corals, environmental officials have said.

A marine park team surveying the affected area after the Shen Neng 1 was refloated and towed away late on Monday said the grounding had cut a 1km-long swathe across the reef, home to a plethora of colourful marine life.

The 230-metre ship struck the Douglas Shoals section of the reef on April 3, and was grounded for more than a week as salvage teams tried to refloat it.

Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said toxic anti-fouling paint pasted on the ship's hull was killing corals off the northeastern state of Queensland.

"They have found significant scarring and coral damage, they've also found quite a lot of anti-fouling [paint] spread across the reef," Reichelt told ABC public radio.

He said the paint was a particular concern "because it's designed to be toxic and stop things growing on ships".

"We've already seen observations where anti-fouling paint that's been scraped off onto the reef is killing corals in its vicinity."

Refloated

Late on Monday night salvage teams managed to refloat the bulk carrier by pumping compressed air into its hull and pulling the vessel free using tugboats.

"We're actually not out of the woods on this yet. Until this ship is repaired and out of the Great Barrier Reef, none of us will really rest easy"

Rachel Nolan, Queensland state transport minister

Travelling at full speed and in broad daylight the Shen Neng 1 struck the reef after straying off a recognised shipping lane.

The carrier leaked two tonnes of heavy fuel oil onto the reef when it ran aground, but crews managed to pump out most of the 970 tonnes before refloating it.

Divers are due to assess the damage to the ship, which has been towed to an area east of Great Keppel Island.

The vessel, still carrying 68,000 tonnes of coal, had been grinding across a shoal, creating plumes of coral dust in the water.

"We're actually not out of the woods on this yet," Rachel Nolan, the Queensland state transport minister, told ABC.

"Until this ship is repaired and out of the Great Barrier Reef, none of us will really rest easy."

Australian officials have accused the ship's crew of taking an illegal route through the reef, listed as a World Heritage site, promising to probe claims that ships were taking a short-cut.

The government said it would be "throwing the book" at those responsible, adding that it will consider extending a ship-tracking system which controls vessels moving around other parts of the reef and review shipping regulations.

Ships barred

Environmental laws bar shipping in the area in order to protect what is the world's largest coral reef.

Days after the Shen Neng 1 incident, three crew members from a Panama-flagged bulk carrier were charged with illegally entering a restricted part of the reef, and are due to reappear in court in the northeastern city of Townsville on Friday.

South Korean Gang Chun Han, 63, and Vietnam's Tran Tan Thanh and Nguyen Van Sang face maximum fines of A$225,000 ($205,000), after allegedly taking the MV Mimosa through the reef.

The Great Barrier Reef sprawls along some 3,000 kilometres of Australia coast, and is home to thousands of marine species and a major tourist attraction.

The reef, which is visible from space and is one of the world's foremost ecological treasures, has already come under pressure from rising sea temperatures and pollution.

Source:
Agencies
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