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Who pays the cost for the Barrier reef damage from the Shen Neng 1?

Submitted by on May 15, 2010 – 12:08 pm5 Comments

Wiki Map: The Shen Neng took a shortcut from its planned route, but then deviated from the passage and ran aground on Douglas Shoal.

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?

Helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef. Whitsunday Islands, Australia. 12.27.09.

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5 Comments »

  • Haobin Danny Zhang says:

    Just like you argued that the Australian related departments should also be responsible for this immeasurable accident. Yes, the main reason is that the first mate of Shen neng 1 was lack of sleep, resulting their aground. However when they shifted their lane, they have reported to related departments, but did not get any warning. There is no other reason for such accident but human errors.Its just too bad that we can only make judgements on protecting the environment after the accident. If there is a major accident in drilling for oil off the US coastlines, only then will we do something to protect the our shorelines. Prior to that we’re un-American, against freedom, socialists, and whatever else they market us as being in order to protect oil company profits and lobbyists

  • WeiWei Vivien Xu says:

    I partially agree with your comment. Firstly, if the government hadn’t initially permitted Shen Neng 1 to get near the environmentally vulnerable waters, the ship wouldn’t have the chance to crash into the coral even if crew had errors in navigation. There’s vast room in the open sea. So the policy still made this accident possible in the first place.

    Secondly, as you mentioned, no matter who eventually ponies up the money to rehabilitate and protect the marine park, the damage caused to the world heritage by the accidents might be irreversible. As the Chinese proverb goes, “It’s too late to mend the sheepfold after a sheep is lost.”

  • Paula Comandari Andueza says:

    This kind of accidents just makes me feel that there is a lack of public policies which prevent these issues. It seems that we still do not understand how important is to protect the environment which is being damaged every day for different reasons. The accident in the Gulf of Mexico is another example of the obligation to create policies which maybe can make companies lose some money but instead avoiding that many of these issues again happen.

  • Jingqi Lindsay Liu says:

    I think it is not fair that Chinese crew should take all the responsibilities. I think both Australia government and Chinese crew should take the responsibilities. I think it is wrong that Chinese crew didn’t take the regular route which causes the accident. However, if the government can pay more attention and efforts in this kinds of things, I think the accident can be avoided. I am sure that there were some other ships which took the shortcut as Chinese crew did in order to save transport charges. So it is not fair if the Chinese crew should pay all the cost of the damage.

  • Vera says:

    That’s a fairly clear and creative map, Weiwei! -)

    I’m wondering if the12-mile wide short cut is a legal course as the Australia Marine Safety Authority says, why did not Shen Neng 1 report this short cut in its sailing plan?

    Does this mean that this passage between North West Island and Douglas Shoal is actually not legal (as it is in the sensitive area—the Great Barrier Reef Park)?

    For this reason, can we suppose that because there are too many carriers taking this course everyday and local authority does not would like to supervise it due to commercial interest, which makes it ‘legal’?

    As a professor in the University of Queensland I talked with says: once the government finds out an appropriate course in the GBR to meet the needs both of commercial interest and conservation, it would be very difficult to avoid this kind of accidents happening again.

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