Relatively calm seas and moderate winds have temporarily allayed concerns the ship could break up, but the threat to the Barrier Reef is not over. Mr Quirk said salvage assistance would be needed to remove the carrier and it would be “a difficult process that could take some time”.
The main engine room on Shen Neng 1 had been breached, he said, the main engine damaged and the rudder seriously damaged.
About two tonnes of fuel oil have already spilled, creating a slick about 3km long and 100m wide, but further leaking has not been registered.
Graham Scott said the pilot would have had to ignore a lot of warning signs to end up on Douglas
Shoal, which he described as a long, low, gradual rise of coral, sand and weed.
Now that it was there, however, it would be very difficult to remove. Water and wind would be acting against each other, he said, grinding the ship on the reef. He could see no other way of removal other than floating it off, which would mean removing the oil and the coal freight.
Mr Scott said that while the damage to Douglas Shoal would be considerable, he hoped that no further damage to the area would occur. The incident was a timely reminder of the environmental cost of an oil spill in that area, he said.
According to MSQ, any major oil spill would not only damage the reef, but would end up in the military area of Shoalwater Bay, one of the most pristine places in the world, which is without vehicle access or any other infrastructure that could be used for a clean-up.
WWF-Australia’s conservation director Dr Gilly Llewellyn said the lack of current safeguards around shipping in the Great Barrier Reef was akin to playing Russian roulette with the world heritage listed area.
“With shipping traffic set to escalate dramatically in these waters over coming years, a major environmental disaster becomes more likely.
“A review of the current management system is urgently needed to ensure it is completely watertight,” she said.
Shen Neng 1 is owned by Shenzhen Energy, a subsidiary of the COSCO Group – China’s largest shipping company.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the shipping company could be fined $1 million and the ship’s captain $250,000 if it was found they had broken Australia’s shipping laws.