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Grounded Ship: 3km Oil Spill on Great Barrier Reef

by Marissa Calligeros

Maritime authorities are racing to disperse an oil spill stretching three kilometres along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Chinese-registered bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1 aground 70 kilometres east of Great Keppel Island. INSET: A close-up of the ship shows oil leaking from it's port side. (Photo: AeroRescue/AMSA. Inset: Maritime Safety Queensland) The Chinese-owned, 230 metre-long bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1, ran aground about 70 kilometres east of Great Keppel Island shortly after 5pm on Saturday, sparking a national oil spill response plan.

A second dose of chemical dispersants was to be sprayed over the spill, which measures 3000 metres by 100 metres, Maritime Safety Queensland has confirmed.

"One set of dispersants were deployed by light aircraft earlier today and a second spray has been scheduled for this afternoon to manage a 'ribbon' of oil," Maritime Safety Queensland said in a statement.

"While the amount of oil is considered relatively small at this stage, it is a'persistent' substance and expected to take some time to break apart."

The chemical dispersant was sprayed this morning over two small patches of oil, understood to amount to two tonnes.

The spill is located about four kilometres from the grounded bulk coal carrier, which is carrying 950 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 65,000 tonnes of coal.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said an ocean swell of about two to three metres had ruled out deploying a 'boom' to contain the spill to date.

Meanwhile a specialist salvage team has been preparing to board the bulk coal carrier this evening to plan the mammoth retrieval operation.

Further leaks could take two days to reach the coast but are most likely to hit beaches in the Shoalwater Bay National Park, Premier Anna Bligh said.

Ship may 'break up'

"This ship is in a very damaged condition and the worry now is that the salvage operation may disturb the ship in a way that sees more oil discharged into the water,' Ms Bligh said.

"It will require a serious and specialist salvage operation,."

The Chinese-owned vessel was in a restricted zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, approximately 13 nautical miles off its set course, and well outside the authorised shipping corridor when it ran aground on the reef.

It's presence in a restricted zone will be the subject of an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

However the vessel is also in danger of breaking apart as a result of the impact of the high-speed crash, said Captain Patrick Quirk, general manager of Maritime Safety Queensland.

"She is completely damaged on the port side. We are still very concerned about the ship," he said.

"It is in danger of actually breaking a number of its main structures and breaking into a number of parts. At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up."

Ms Bligh said Queensland Water Police were standing by to evacuate the 23 crew on board if necessary.

However, Tracey Jiggins of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the master of the ship felt it was safe for the crew to remain on board at this stage.

"Considering the current weather conditions the master is happy for the crew to remain on board for now," Ms Jiggins said.

Greens blame Bligh government

Meanwhile environmentalists have expressed outrage that the state and federal governments for allowing the carrier to travel along the Queensland coast without the guidance of an Australia marine pilot.

Greens leader Bob Brown said the Shen Neng 1 did not have a marine pilot on board when the accident occurred.

"Despite calls for all such ships to have pilots aboard, both Canberra and Brisbane have bowed to the coal and shipping companies to avoid this common sense requirement," Mr Brown said in a statement today.

Senator Brown said the "reckless" decision not to insist on pilots had caused a potential disaster near one of the world's greatest natural wonders.

He slammed moves to expand coal exports throughout the Great Barrier Reef area, given there was no plans for mandatory ship piloting.

Greens spokeswoman Larissa Waters also said it was "unacceptable" that marine pilots were not made compulsory for all carriers travelling through the inner passage to the Great Barrier Reef .

Ms Waters said the cost of engaging a marine pilot for the length of the Reef would be $8,000- $10,000 according the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"Cutting costs on this while risking our multi-billion dollar reef tourism industry is unforgivable," she said.

Ms Waters said the government was treating the Great Barrier Reef like a "coal highway" at the expense of the world renowned marine park.

"Government is bending over backwards to increase exports of fossil fuels, rather than investing in job rich clean renewable energy which safeguards our reef," Ms Waters said.

"The state government is being blinded by royalties and this short-sightedness will go down in history as killing the Reef."

- with AAP

 

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