Grounded Shen Neng 1 may have tried illegal shortcut through Great Barrier Reef

by Hans | April 6th, 2010

The Chinese-registered ship now dragging against the Great Barrier Reef could have been attempting an illegal shortcut when it ran aground on Saturday night. The Shen Neng 1 hit Douglas Shoal at full speed.

The Courier-Mail reports the Shen Neng 1 was 15km outside the shipping lane and near a known shortcut between reefs in Queensland’s world famous marine playground when it crashed into coral. A Maritime Safety Queensland pokesman has confirmed the existence of a channel with sufficient depth to enable ships to pass through – effectively creating a Reef rat-run to save time and money in their journeys.

But authorities are refusing to discuss any reason for the Shen Neng 1 being so far off course. More than two days after the incident, they have started three inquiries but not formally interviewed the crew. Speculation has mounted about the possibility that the ship was taking a shortcut. An MSQ spokesman said the passage was possible, but “poorly executed” by the Shen Neng 1 which was obviously “well outside the shipping lanes”.

Commercial and non-commercial fishermen said they saw at least one bulk carrier duck south of Douglas Shoal every day. Authorities are hoping for good weather to stop a stricken carrier spilling more oil into the Great Barrier Reef. Maritime experts said good weather forecast for the area would stop a “catastrophic break-up of the ship”.

Equipment will arrive at the scene of the grounded bulk carrier tomorrow which is hoped will be able to contain further oil spills or pump oil off the ship. Tugs have also been brought in to stabilise the vessel, which has been dragged by the force of the ocean up to 30m away from where it first hit Douglas Shoal. Sonar equipment is expected to paint a clearer picture of the damage to Shen Neng 1’s engine, rudder and fuel tanks, while the army remains on standby should oil wash up on nearby beaches. Chinese owners Cosco maintained their public silence yesterday but face fines of up to $1 million over the incident, while the captain could be handed an individual penalty of up to $250,000.

The Cosco group did not respond to inquiries from The Courier-Mail but AMSA spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said Cosco was in regular contact with the salvage company Svitzer. Premier Anna Bligh said the ship had acted illegally and it should face the “full force of the law”. The crew are yet to be formally interviewed and have remained on board the vessel. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will fly over the Shen Neng 1 today to survey the damage to the Reef.

Source:: The Australian

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