Marine Safety

Race to stabilise ship stuck on reef

A SHIP which ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is in danger of breaking up and spilling more oil into the sea.

A national oil spill response was activated on Saturday after Chinese-owned bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground on the Douglas Shoal at around 5pm on Saturday evening.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the ship was travelling at full speed in a restricted area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, more than 13 nautical miles off course, when it hit the shoal.

Related: Throw the book at ship's owner: Bligh

A five nautical mile exclusion zone has been set up around the ship, with an Australian Maritime Safety Authority aircraft controlling traffic through the zone.

The Morning Bulletin was granted access to the exclusion zone set up around the ship yesterday morning, and saw the ship stuck-fast in its position on the eastern edge of the Douglas Shoal.

From the air, oil could be seen spilling near the stern on the starboard side of the ship into the turquoise water.

Ms Bligh said the ship was damaged in the crash and was in danger of breaking apart and spilling its 975 tonnes of heavy fuel into the sea.

“It will require a serious and specialist salvage operation,” Ms Bligh said.

“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.”

Modelling showed that oil could possibly wash up in the Shoalwater Bay military training area in the next two days, but that was dependant on the effectiveness of the chemical dispersant.

Dispersants are most effective when used within 48 hours of the spill and were sprayed in two separate deployments yesterday, one by a Rockhampton based light aircraft and a second yesterday afternoon on a slick measuring three kilometres by 100 metres.

Maritime Safety Queensland have been monitoring from the land and sea since the ship ran aground on Saturday, and had observed small quantities of oil around the ship.

Captain Patrick Quirk, general manager of Maritime Safety Queensland had ruled out deploying a ‘boom’.

The ship was not expected to move without assistance and yesterday professional salvors have been engaged by the ship’s owners.

Ms Bligh said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be conducting a full investigation into the incident.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the Federal Government were also part of monitoring the situation.

“The Government is very conscious of the importance of the Great Barrier Reef environment and ensuring that impacts on its ecology are effectively managed,” he said.

Rockhampton Regional Council was on standby and will be holding a Local Disaster Management Group meeting at 9am on Tuesday.

The 230m long Shen Neng 1 was carrying 65,000 tonnes of coal and ran aground after departing the port of Gladstone on Saturday.

The Douglas Shoal is a well known and popular reef fishing spot for local fisherman, and is home to a wide range of reef fish species.

There were 24 people aboard the ship, 23 crew and one Australian Maritime Safety Authority surveyor, and Yeppoon Water Police were on standby to help them evacuate the ship if needed.