Chinese ship leaking oil near Great Barrier Reef

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef.
Image: NASA.

A Chinese merchant ship has run aground off the coast of Australia and began leaking oil into the ocean near the Great Barrier Reef, triggering fears of a major oil spill into the waters near the reef.

The ship, the Shen Neng 1, was carrying 950 tonnes of oil, along with 65,000 tonnes of coal, from Gladstone, a port in Queensland, Australia, to China. It reportedly ran aground sometime late on Saturday 70 kilometers from Great Keppel Island, according to a spokesperson from the Queensland state government. The spokesperson, Mark Strong, said that oil had been spotted off the ship about two nautical miles away, although there was currently no major leak. A plane was dispatched to spray a dispersant over the oil, as well as to assess the situation, and a major clean-up operation was being planned by authorities.

The day after the ship first grounded, reports began emerging that it had been travelling in a restricted zone of the ocean, around nine miles outside the normal shipping lane, and had been travelling at full speed when it grounded. An official from Queensland said that a probing inquiry would later be conducted into its presence outside the shipping channel.

Conservationists said that the incident was "a sign of things to come," and that there was the potential for a much larger accident in the future. One such person, a spokesman for the Capricorn Conservation Council, said that "We are outraged that no marine pilot is required on ships between Gladstone and Cairns." Cairns is a city on the northern coast of Australia.