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Science & Technology»Huge damage to the Great Barrier Reef

»Friday, April 16,2010

Two Chinese merchant officers charged with damaging Great Barrier Reef

Captain and chief officer face Queensland court after Chinese bulk carrier, Shen Neng 1, ran aground on protected reef

The captain and a senior officer of a Chinese coal carrier that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef nearly two weeks ago have been arrested and charged with damaging the protected site. They are expected to appear in court in Gladstone, Queensland, tomorrow.



The 47-year-old master of the Shen Neng 1 is charged with liability for damage and could face a maximum fine of A$55,000 (£33,250). The 44-year-old chief officer is accused of being in charge of the vessel during the grounding and could face up to three years in prison and a fine up to A$220,000 (£133.000).

Environmental campaigners have called the incident a potential ecological "time bomb" and accused the coal industry of playing Russian roulette by using maritime shortcuts along a highly vulnerable part of the reef system.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that investigations by federal police, the marine park authority and maritime safety officials found the ship failed to turn at a waypoint where it was required to alter course.

A big clean-up operation appears to have limited damage to reef islands where blobs of oil believed to come from the stricken ship have washed ashore. The grounding on 4 April left a scar on the reef nearly two miles long and caused an oil slick reportedly nearly as big.

The Gladstone harbour master, Mike Lutze, said the amounts of oil reported so far were "minimal" and authorities had found none on sea birds and turtles that use one of the islands as a nesting ground. The ship has been towed to a safe anchorage. Poor weather has so far prevented an inspection of the hull by divers.

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