The Commonwealth of Australia is suing the Chinese owner of the bulk carrier MV Shen Neng 1 over unpaid damages from the ship’s 2010 grounding on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Chinese registered Shen Neng 1 was loaded with coal when it ran aground on April 3, 2010 on Douglas Shoal, about 50 miles north of the entrance to the port of Gladstone, Queensland, spilling oil and damaging a large swath of protect reef.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Dr. Russell Reichelt, Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, called the incident the worst known direct impact on a coral reef by a ship grounding.
The grounding impacted an area stretching across .4 square kilometers, severely damaging or destroying an estimated 115,000 square meters of shoal, according to Dr. Reichelt. The ship also left behind anti-fouling paint on the reef and scar area of loose coral and rubble, he said.
“However, despite ongoing attempts to have the ship’s owner pay for damages, the Commonwealth was unsuccessful in securing funds from the ship owner or its insurer to clean-up and remediate the site,” Dr. Reichelt said in the statement. “This has been a great disappointment, particularly given the nature and scale of the incident, and GBRMPA remains concerned about the long-term health of the shoal.”
“This is why the Commonwealth has had no alternative but to take legal action in the Federal Court,” Reichelt added.
The lawsuit seeks damages from the ship’s owner for the cost of remediation of the shoal or, as an alternative, orders requiring remediation of the shoal by the ship’s owner.
The owner of the MV Shen Neng 1 was previously identified as Shenzhen Energy Transport.
An ATSB investigation into the incident found that the grounding occurred because the fatigued chief mate did not alter the ship’s course at the designated course alteration position, resulting in the ship to running straight into the reef several kilometers from the designated shipping lane. The ship’s hull was seriously damaged by the grounding, with the engine room and six water ballast and fuel oil tanks being breached.
The lawsuit proceeding has been listed for trial for 15 days commencing in April 2016 in Brisbane.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says its first priority in remediating the shoal would be to attempt to remove the remaining anti-fouling paint and residue, which will allow some natural recovery in the area.