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Officials Battling Oil Spill In Great Barrier Reef

April 5, 2010

A Chinese coal carrier that has run aground in northeastern Australia has officials scrambling to prevent a major oil leak from pouring into the Great Barrier Reef.

The Shen Neng 1 was moving at full speed when it struck Douglas Shoals in Queensland on Saturday, and according to various reports, it suffered a breach of its fuel tank and has started spilling oil.

In a statement released Monday morning, Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) noted that the ship has already lost two of the 1,000 tons of oil it is carrying, resulting in a 100-yard slick that is two miles long.

Authorities have been concerned that the ship could possibly break apart, but on Monday, two tugboats were able to stabilize the craft, according to Associated Press (AP) reports. Had the craft broken down, it could have severely damaged Douglas Shoals, a World Heritage site and the home to the world’s largest coral reef.

“In the current conditions we are reasonably assured, as far as we can be, that there will be no catastrophic break-up of the ship,” Patrick Quirk of MSQ told AFP reporter Madeleine Coorey early Monday, “but if the weather turned bad it will be another problem.”

“The vessel is in a restricted zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park–these are zones that are off limits to shipping,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told BBC news, adding that authorities planned to investigate why the ship was nine miles outside of regular channels.

The owners of the Shen Neng 1, a subsidiary of Cosco Group, could be fined more than $900,000 dollars if they are found to be negligent in the incident. Likewise, the captain could be faced with penalties totalling a quarter of a million dollars, according to AP reports.

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