A 26,070 tonne bulk sugar carrier came close to clipping Shark Reef northeast of Cooktown yesterday – a popular destination for tourists visiting Queensland’s famed Great Barrier Reef.
The Hong Kong ship ID Integrity had a broken-down engine and thanks to the efforts of crews and tug boats it was hauled away from the World Heritage-listed Reef with just metres to spare. It is thought the ship could contain as much as 720 tonnes of oil.
The shipping mishap has prompted calls for a review of Reef shipping regulations in the region.
The ship’s location, known as the Coral Sea Islands Territory, is notorious for its powerful trade winds and gusts of 55km/hr were recorded during the emergency.
WWF-Australia spokesman and marine scientist Richard Leck, who has worked at Osprey and Shark reefs, said the ship’s hull should be inspected in case it brushed the reef.
He said it was obvious Australia avoided a disaster by metres and called for an independent probe into shipping to includes issues such as the best routes, pilotage, deployment of pollution gear and tugs and, particularly, what Australia could do to ensure the seaworthiness of offshore-flagged ships and the ability of their crews.
In 2009 the Pacific Adventurer lost 270 tonnes of oil damaging beaches on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane and islands in Moreton Bay. In 2011 the Shen Neng 1 struck the Douglas Shoal scarring three-kilometres of the reef.