The Chinese coal freighter Shen Neng 1 that grounded on the Great Barrier Reef has been moved to safety. But the incident has made the public aware that freighters routinely take illegal shortcuts through the reef, and politicians are calling for steeper fines and legal action to protect it.
Queensland Maritime Safety/AP
The furor over the Shen Neng 1 – which ran into the world’s largest stretch of coral reef 10 days ago while taking an illegal shortcut – has led to the discovery that a steady stream of cargo ships illegally cut through the reef's protected zone.
Fishermen near the Douglas Shoal off of Queensland, where the ship ran aground, told the Times of London they see at least one bulk carrier pass through each day. Australian Federal Police said it was “not unusual” for ships to cut through the reef.
The area has become known as a “coal highway” as countries like China buy more natural resources from Australia. The Shen Neng 1 was hauling 65,000 tons of coal.
The day after the Shen Neng 1 got caught in the reef another cargo ship, Mimosa, was caught entering a restricted zone without permission. Nor was it properly registered with the official tracking system.
Bad timing. It chugged in just as Australian authorities began broadcasting legal threats to all ships cutting through the Great Barrier Reef in response to the Shen Neng 1 accident. Three Mimosa crewmembers were arrested and, after appearing in court on Monday, released on bail.
“If we have any foreign vessel or any vessel violating the proper protection of the Great Barrier Reef, they should have the book thrown at them,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh called for a fivefold increase for corporations whose ships spill oil, to $10 million, and said she would introduce such legislation to Parliament this week. Individual fines would be raised to $500,000 from $350,000.