On the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park last week, A Chinese-owned ship loaded with coal departed Gladstone, Queensland, the 6th largest coal exporting port in the world.
A couple of hours later the ship scrapped across the bottom of a shallow area, and eventually became stranded.
The First Mate who was steering the ship was almost asleep it’s has been revealed. He’d had just two hours of broken sleep in the earlier 36 hours while the ship was being loaded.
The stranding made big news.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was threatened by (fuel) oil that may spill from a ship.
The place is a region charts call the Capricorn and Bunker Group.
In the following days the fuel oil was pumped into a barge and the stranded ship floated free and was taken under tow to where divers could inspect the hull.
The ship’s captain and first mate have been arrested for negligence for attempting a ‘commonly used short cut’ across the shallow grounds that would have saved them an hour of travel and US$2 000 in fuel.
A few points the media is missing.
The Great Barrier Reef is not a single barrier reef.
It is a series of more than a thousand small reefs with spaces or channels between each of them. Great Barrier Reefs would have been more appropriate name.
Captain James Cook RN was covering his tracks after his ship ran aground on a small inshore reef over 200 years ago. He named and discovered The Great Barrier Reef.
The shallow area the coal ship Shen Neng No.1 became stranded on is not marked with beacons or poles.
There is a lighthouse nearby at North Reef that should have helped with accurate navigation plus GPS.
Douglas Shoal is nothing special for tourists. It is not a reef.
Local divers pass it in favor of Heron Island 30 miles to the south, and other reefs even closer).
Douglas Shoal is not an area one would bother diving.
Better anchorages for small boats and good conditions exist everywhere further south for the next 100 km or more, all the way down to Lady Musgrave Island.
News reports are quoting experts saying “it will take 20 years for ‘the reef’ to recover” – an impression that beautiful formations of coral have been damaged. The ship struck smooth reef.
Future pictures tendered as evidence may tell a different story but I doubt any beautiful coral has been lost.
Coral reefs require sheltered waters to flourish. In the open ocean where sea swells occur, good coral formations don’t form.
This incident will result in new rules governing shipping within Great Barrier Reef waters. That is a good idea.
Proper marking of submerged reefs should also be a consideration given that Australia is now exporting record amounts of coal from Gladstone and other ports further south.
Heron Island (a famous tourist destination) has escaped negative publicity by not being mentioned by the media yet it is nearby and only 30 miles away. Small deposits of fuel oil have washed ashore on North West Island this week. Prevailing trade winds blow from the south-east.
UPDATE 14 April 2011. Cause was acute fatigue on captain and first mate.
ABC TV News of the result of an inquiry that concluded today. Paste link into your browser