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Bulk Carrier Captain and Chief Mate Fined for Leaving Great Barrier Reef Shipping Lanes

Mike Schuler
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July 1, 2022

The captain and chief mate of a bulk carrier have been fined after pleading guilty to steering the ship through a protected area of the Great Barrier Reef.

The incident took place in March involving 289-meter MV Sea Coen, which is registered in the Marshall Islands, and caused no environmental damage. The Master and First Officer of the vessel admitted to exiting the designated shipping area within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Their guilty plea was enter at Magistrates Court in Townsville, Queensland on June 21.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority CEO Josh Thomas said the outcome was a good example of enforcing compliance in the Marine Park, and demonstrated strong collaboration between management agencies. In this case, the Reef Authority was notified about this incident through the Reef Vessel Tracking Services operated by Maritime Safety Queensland.

The Master and First Officer, both South Korean nationals, have been sentenced to pay AUD$40,000 and $35,000, respectively.

“Having access to technology such as vessel tracking services, ensures we can act swiftly to prevent serious incidents from damaging the Marine Park,” said Thomas. “The Reef Authority places a very high priority on investigating breaches of laws that are designed to reduce the risk to the Reef from ships navigating within this World Heritage Area.”

“Major shipping incidents can have catastrophic consequences for the environmental, cultural and economic values of the Great Barrier Reef, and vessel operators who flout the laws will be held to account,” Thomas added.

The Reef Vessel Tracking Services uses a multi-million dollar system launched in 2019 to monitor shipping in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.

In 2010, the coal-carrying Shen Neng 1 infamously strayed from shipping lanes and ran aground on Douglas Shoal, part of the Great Barrier Reef. The grounding ruptured the ship’s fuel tanks, causing the release of about four metric tons fuel oil into the surrounding waters and significantly damaged the reef. The wreck was eventually towed away following a two-month salvage operation.

The ship’s Chinese owner was sentenced to pay nearly $40 million over the accident. It’s captain and chief mate were also found criminally liable.

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