Coal Shipping is Not a Threat to Great Barrier Reef [STUDY]

id integrity bulk carrier great barrier reef australia
M/V ID Integrity lost power off the Great Barrier Reef on 19 May 2012. Image courtesy AMSA

MELBOURNE–The forecast jump in ships carrying coal north from Australia that will come with the expansion of a northerly port by companies such as BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) doesn’t pose a major risk to the Great Barrier Reef, an industry-led study released Wednesday has concluded.

Environmental groups have raised concerns over the potential for bulk carriers carrying commodities to Asia to harm the reef, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem that runs along the coast of Queensland state. The United Nations World Heritage Committee last year expressed “extreme concern” after state and federal governments approved the development of a massive coal seam gas processing hub.

The voluntary assessment, released by ports authority North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp., found that routine shipping presented no risk of lasting damage to the reef environment.

The study also made several recomendations, including independent vetting of ships, regular reviews of the industry and monitoring of all wildlife that is struck by ships.

“Overall, the impacts and risks to the GBR [Great Barrier Reef] from shipping are considered to be extremely well managed and are improving over time to address the increased shipping volumes and related risks,” the study said.

BHP, and Indian companies Adani Group and GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd. (532708.BY) are each working on plans for new export terminals at the Port of Abbott Point, one of three major coal export ports on the Queensland coast and Australia’s most northerly and closest coal port to Asia.

The current terminal at Abbot Point, which is operated by a unit of Xstrata PLC (XTA.LN), has a capacity of 50 million metric tons a year, although only 13.6 million tons passed through the port in the year through June. Adani has proposed a terminal with an initial capacity of 35 million tons a year, while BHP and GVK, with its partner Hancock Prospecting, both have plans for terminals able to export 60 million tons annually.

The study predicted the number of vessels using the port at Abbott Point would rise to 1,640 in 2032 from about 174 this year.

The review was undertaken by BHP, Adani, GVK-Hancock and the ports authority and comprised 16 environmental studies covering areas including shipping, fishing, noise, dredging and marine biodiversity.

Brad Fish, chief executive of North Queensland Bulk Ports, said the work will help the companies, regulators and the public better understand the expansion of the port.

– Robb M. Stewart, (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company