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April 6, 2010

Pilotage may be required for Barrier Reef transits

Australia may impose mandatory pilotage requirements on ships crossing the Great Barrier Reef may face as a result of a grounding late Saturday. The 230 m Chinese bulker Shen Neng 1 ran aground on Douglas shoals about 70 km east of Great Keppel Island. It had left the Port of Gladstone with a cargo of 65,000 t of coal and around 970 t of heavy fuel oil onboard for its journey to China.

Maritime Safety Queensland General Manager, Patrick Quirk, said the initial damage report was that the main engine room was breached, the main engine damaged and the rudder seriously damaged.

He said that helicopter surveillance Tuesday morning showed a thin oil sheen near the ship measuring 600 m by 300 m.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said the incident poses a significant threat to parts of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

According to one published report, the ship has leaked an estimated four tonnes of oil onto the reef, and at this stage the leak has been stemmed. Two tugs are keeping the bulker stabilized as experts from Svitzer work on salvage plans.

Meantime, there have been accusations that the ship had grounded because the captain had attempted to take a short cut.

But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is reported as saying that the ship had filed plans to take a legitimate route between Douglas Shoal and the Capricorn group of islands to the South. It made a right hand turn too early which led to the grounding.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority chief executive Graham Peachey says it is too early to say whether having a pilot on board would have prevented the incident, but says that mandatory piloting through the reef will be considered among other options to tighten shipping safety around the reef.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett last night said he would work with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to ''consider whether additional measures are required for the management of shipping in the Great Barrier Reef."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it has been working closely with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland under the National Oil Spill Response Plan, since the Shen Neng 1 ran aground.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park said the incident poses a significant threat to parts of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

"We have observed damage to the Reef from the grounding incident itself, as evidenced by the plume of coral sediment that can be seen around the ship," said Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt.

"As soon as it is safe we will conduct a full assessment to determine just how affected the environment around the site is but at the moment the damage is mostly contained to the seabed around the ship.

"There has been some oil that has escaped the vessel and we have used dispersants both yesterday and today to help breakdown the oil and help mitigate any potential impacts on the environment.

"Fortunately the amount of spillage from the ship appears to still be relatively small and is visible as a thin sheen rather than an oily slick. There is not yet a precise estimate of the total amount spilled but estimates of one to four tonnes have been quoted."

"It is critical now that there is a successful salvage with no further damage to the ship and no loss of oil or its cargo of coal."

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