Who pays the cost for the Barrier reef damage from the Shen Neng 1?
The Chinese bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1 that carved a 3km scar on the Great Barrier Reef has also left environmentalists’ hearts bleeding.
The ship’s 2.5 tonne oil spill threatened the life of one of Australian’s natural wonders. Scientists say it could take twenty years for the coral’s rehabilitation. Just to clean up the immediate damage will cost around $34 million. The question is: Who will pay for it?
The shipowners have been urged to cover the major part of the clean-up bill and pay a fine as high as $1.1 million. Nonetheless, the Australian government should also be held accountable since loopholes in Australia’s maritime regulations made the mistake possible.
Undoubtedly, the negligent and faulty Chinese crew deserves to pay a high price. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says fatigued driving might have partially caused the grounding. ATSB told AAP that the first mate “seemed to have had about two and a half hours of broken sleep in the previous 37 hours”. Meanwhile, the GPS navigation system was also not programmed correctly.
“The Shen Neng 1 company should pay for the clean-up and repair with long-term damage,” Darren Kindleysides, director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Salience. “Because they’re at fault and should be liable. The bottom line is that the Australian tax payers will not cover the cost.”
But Kindleysides admitted that fines alone will not solve the problem. He said the Australian government is also to blame and should take steps to make sure the area is properly protected from shipping. “It’s their responsibility to make proper laws and regulations to ensure our natural heritage’s safety,” he said.
The government’s reaction to the accident has been suspect.
At first news reports quoted government officials saying the ship’s planned passage between the Northwest Island and the Douglas shoal into the open sea was “not legitimate”. Later, the Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA)official notice said it was “within the designated shipping area.”
In fact, the Shen Neng 1 is just one of countless ships who take the shortcut to save hours’ journey and thousands of dollars of fuel. On April 7 a report in the Courier-Mail said over 10 ships a month take this shortcut without government intervention. Fishermen also reported seeing ships sailing through every day.
The AMSA notice says that “there is sufficient sea room to manoeuvre the ship to avoid collision.” However, human beings are susceptible to errors. The Queensland Conservation Council has called for an alternative safe sea route away from the marine park.
Kindleysides says the government will likely to extend vessel satellite-tracking and reporting throughout the marine park. (Currently, this procedure only applies to the northern part of the reef, not the southern.) But he doesn’t think the government will go so far as demanding that ships sailing in environmentally vulnerable areas have a veteran local pilot at the wheel because of financial reasons.
Although local tourism to the reef generates $5 billion a year, and the cost of hiring pilots to direct ships’ captains through the park would be small, Kindleysides said the government doesn’t want to pay up.
But he argues they should because of the four or five groundings in the past few years, “they all happened due to human errors and could be avoided.”
Is it fair enough to force the unfortunate Chinese ship to cover all the cost for an ecological catastrophe for which the Australian government is partly responsible for not having provided adequate navigational guiding?China, environment, Great Barrier Reef, oil spill, Shen Neng 1