Maritime authorities in Australia have mounted an emergency salvation operation to prevent a stricken vessel from damaging the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland officials have reportedly warned the operation to salvage the vessel could take up to a month.
The Chinese-registered Shen Neng 1 is grounded on the Douglas Shoals—well outside of established shipping lanes—and environmentalists fear it could spill hundreds of tons of oil into the ocean.
The stricken ship was travelling to China from Gladstone, a port playing a growing role in the export trade of Australia’s natural resources to Asia.
Environmentalists claim the route—utilizing a short-cut through the supposedly protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—poses a danger to the delicate ecosystem.
Covering an area larger than the United Kingdom, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system, made up of more than 2,900 coral reefs and 900 islands scattered over 132,973 square miles off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the southern hemisphere.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) chairman Leo Zussino sought to reassure residents everything possible was being done: “There’s no evidence of a threat to the Central Queensland coast at this point in time, and certainly, the professional salvors are on board and are waiting for the assessment which is looking quite promising."
Authorities are likely to begin removing oil and coal from the vessel in the next few days.