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Australia Settles in Reef Disaster Case

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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The Australian government has come to a settlement with representatives of Shenzhen Energy, whose Shen Neng 1 ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010, causing considerable environmental damage to one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

According to reports, the government settled with The London P&I Club, which insures Shenzhen, for the amount of AU$39.3 million (about $30 million). The government had originally sought AU$120 million, about three times as much as the settlement ended up garnering.

Shen Neng 1, a bulk coal carrier, struck the reef on April 3, 2010, causing what has been called the largest grounding scar ever made on the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to physical damage from the ship and oil that spilled from its fuel tank, the ship left toxic substances from its antifouling coating, including tributyltin (TBT), copper and zinc, on the reef.

Growing Cleanup Costs

Cleanup costs were originally estimated at AU$50 million, but earlier this year, a new estimate put the bill closer to AU$141 million (about $104 million). According to Australian government representatives, international maritime law puts an upper limit on the financial liability of the shipper in this case, which accounts for the relatively low value of the settlement in comparison with the cost to remediate the reef.

Great Barrier Reef satellite image
NASA by MISR, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Barrier Reef, seen in a satellite image, is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Of the cost settled upon, AU$35 million is meant to cover the cost of removing rubble left behind by the ship, and the remaining $4.3 million is to cover work already done immediately after the incident.

It is unclear how the remainder of the cost of cleanup will be funded.

Cleanup Delays

While the incident occurred in April 2010 and the oil spill remediation and ship removal took place within two months, cleanup of the reef itself has yet to begin. Reports indicate that the project is still in the planning stages and is set to begin in mid-2017, depending on weather factors. Cleanup had been delayed while the government pursued legal action against the shipper.

The ship left a 400,000-square-meter scar in the coral reef, according to reports. The ship is 225 meters (738 feet) long and at its widest point 32.66 meters (107 feet) wide.

Because of the lack of cleanup to this point, experts have noted that the TBT and other toxins in the antifouling coating applied to the ship’s hull have become “embedded” in the coral at the site.

TBT came under fire for its toxic properties in the 1980s and ‘90s, and was banned outright by the International Maritime Organization in 2008, after several countries had already begun to prohibit the substance.

Fine, Jail Time for Crew

Shen Neng 1 was reportedly at least 10 kilometers off course when it ran aground on the Douglas Shoal section of the reef while en route from Gladstone, Australia, to Bayuquan, China. In 2012, the ship’s captain, Jichang Wang was ordered to pay AU$25,000 in fines after pleading guilty, and first mate Xuegang Wang was sentenced to three months in jail.

Shen Neng 1 was built in 1993, known at the time as Bestore. It now operates under the name Jia Yong.


Tagged categories: Antifoulants; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Government; hazardous materials; Health & Safety; Latin America; Laws and litigation; North America; Ships and vessels

Comment from peter gibson, (9/28/2016, 10:20 AM)

Impossible to repair the damage.Which genius over thinks they can. The Aussies love their coral; why wait so long to repair their beloved coral. Big Greenies this Aussies also. 10 km off that one.

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