BRISBANE, Australia – A coal-carrying ship that ran aground and was leaking oil on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was in danger of breaking apart, officials said today.
The Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals, a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort. It’s off the coast of Queensland state in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off northeast Australia.
Authorities fear an oil spill will damage the world’s largest coral reef, listed as a World Heritage site for its environmental value.
The ship hit the reef at full speed, 9 miles outside the shipping lane, State Premier Anna Bligh said.
A police launch was standing by to remove the 23 crew members if the ship broke apart and an evacuation was necessary, she said.
Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early today, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss from the 1,000 tons of oil on board.
“We are now very worried we might see further oil discharged from this ship,” Bligh told reporters.
Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the vessel was badly damaged on its port side.
“At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up,” he told reporters. “We are still very concerned about the ship.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said authorities had been working through the night to determine what risks the ship posed to the environment.
The 755 foot bulk vessel was carrying about 72,000 tons of coal to China and ran aground within hours of leaving the Queensland port of Gladstone.
Conservationists have expressed outrage that bulk carriers can travel through the reef without a marine pilot with local expertise.