A Chinese coal-carrying cargo ship crashed into the coral reef and became grounded inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the Queensland coastlate Saturday within hours of leaving port. The tanker hit the reef at full speed several miles outside its authorized shipping lane. The vessel has now began leaking from the hull some of its over-300,000 gallons of heavy engine fuel oil into the pristine waters, the southern part of the protected maritime park, listed as a World Heritage site for its environmental value by the United Nations. The crashing site is only 38 nautical miles east of Great Keppel Island tourist resort and the Douglas Shoals area, itself is a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing.
“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, said from the Queensland state government. Strong ocean currents on Monday battered the stranded vessel, raising fears that more oil would be leaked into the water or even cause the ship to break apart, spilling both heavy fuel oil and coal into the marine park. In a Monday morning, the government confirmed that a hole in the bottom of the ship is introducing water into the main engine room. The main engine was damaged and the rudder was seriously damaged.
At first, two tugboats sent to the site by the government tried to stabilize the ship and prevent it from breaking apart, as ocean swells repeatedly lifted the ship and dropped it on the shoal, where it ran aground. The ocean swells of 6 to 10 feet also prevented the deployment of floating booms to contain the oil slick. An Australian aircraft had to drop chemical dispersants on what the authorities described as a ribbon of oil two miles long and as wide as the length of a football field. However, a day later, salvage workers were able to manage to successfully contain the fuel leak with the use of a floating boom. “It’s possible that this could be one of the most complex and difficult salvage operations we’ve seen, certainly in Queensland’s maritime history and possibly Australia’s,” said Queensland state premier.
The ship’s owner could be fined up to 1 million Australian dollars ($920,000) for straying from a shipping lane used by 6,000 cargo ships each year. Conservationists have expressed outrage that bulk carriers can travel through the reef without a marine pilot with local expertise. Federal authorities said they would launch an investigation into why the coal carrier had ventured inside a restricted zone of the marine park, far from any of the shipping channels.