The clock is ticking for salvage teams trying to prevent an ecological disaster around the Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian government has confirmed that a Chinese bulk carrier is in danger of breaking up, threatening to spill nearly 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into waters that are highly vulnerable to damage from pollution.
The General Manager of Maritime Safety in Queensland, Patrick Quirk, said: “The vessel’s a long way from where it should have been. But the vast majority of the oil is still on board the ship and that’s where we want to keep it.”
The Shen Nang foundered 70 kilometres east of Great Keppel Island off Australia’s eastern sea-board. It ploughed into Douglas Shoals at full speed loaded with 65,000 tonnes of coal. It was a full 15 kilometres off the main shipping lane.
The Green Party’s Larissa Waters said: “This sort of lack of monitoring is outrageous in the Great Barrier Reef. This is why we need marine pilots there shepherding these ships through the appropriate course on these reefs.”
Some oil has already leaked from the vessel, which has been badly damaged on its port side. Planes have been spraying a dispersant chemical that is not expected to cause major damage to the environment.