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article imageOil from grounded Chinese ship threatens Great Barrier Reef

By Stephanie Dearing     Apr 5, 2010 in Environment
While authorities believe there is no risk that the Chinese ship, grounded on the Great Barrier Reef, will not break-up, the ship is still in a precarious situation and the potential for disaster remains.
Shen Neng 1, a giant Chinese ship carrying oil and coal ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef Saturday night. Due to reports that the ship was travelling at top speed when it grounded itself, there was concern that the ship would break up, which would complicate the disaster. However, authorities think that as long as calm weather holds, the ship will not break up.
Should the ship fall apart, the payload of coal and heavy oil will go directly into the ocean.The ship was carrying around 1,000 tons of oil and 65,000 tons of coal. It is calculated that up to 2 tons of oil have already been released from the accident, and booms have yet to be brought in to contain any further releases of oil. Authorities believe there is a "water plug" preventing the further loss of oil into the ocean, which might be lost if the ship is moved.
While authorities are expressing confidence the situation can be contained and ameliorated, many people are concerned that potential for a disaster is still high. Spokeswoman for the World Wide Fund for Nature (Australia), Gilly Llewellyn told press the situation is a "... ticking environmental time bomb. We would potentially be looking at an environmental disaster." Strong ocean currents are making the situation precarious, and the ship is far from stable. Two tugboats have been dispatched to attempt to stabilize the ship in order to prevent further physical damage to the reef.
A concurrent investigtion into the accident has been launched. The Chinese freighter was in a no-shipping zone, and the owners of the ship could face a fine of $1 million if found to have violated Australia's shipping laws. It is possible that the Captain was attempting to make his voyage shorter by taking a short cut through the reef. A report from investigators might be available as soon as the end of May.
It is thought that removing the ship from the reef might take weeks. Authorities are waiting to board the ship to inspect the damage and interview the crew, who remain on board. The damage is thought to be extensive, although officials are downplaying the ecological risk. The army is waiting on standby in the event that oil is released from the ship and heads for the shore of Queensland.
The incident has drawn attention to the issue of government oversight. Critics say commercial ships are supposed to be monitored by Australian authorities, but the monitoring is weak. Australian group, World Wide Fund for Nature (Australia), claims the Chinese company that owns the ship, Shenzhen Energy, a subsidiary of the COSCO Group, has had three similar incidents occur during the past four years.
The accident occurred off the coast of Queensland. The Chinese freighter was returning to China. When the ship first ran aground after taking on cargo in Australia, the Captain reported that there was no threat of an oil spill, saying the hole in the hull was meters away from the oil stored on board the ship. Shortly after that report, the ship began to lose oil.
The ship ran aground near Rockhampton, Queensland.
The Great Barrier Reef is a protected marine park, recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.
More about Oil spill, Great barrier reef, Chinese ship, Australia, Queensland
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