Costs Balloon for Reef Paint Cleanup


Australian Sen. Larissa Waters is continuing her fight to have toxic paint residue removed from the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, even as the costs of such cleanup are reported to have tripled.

The paint in question was left behind on April 3, 2010, when Chinese oil tanker Shen Neng 1 ran across the Douglas Shoal area of the reef, scraping off its bottom coating and leaving behind a three-kilometer (nearly two miles) scar.

The country’s Senate Estimates committee was urged to take action during a hearing Thursday (May 5) when it was told the paint left on reef coral is so toxic it is killing the bacteria that would normally naturally break down the paint, the Brisbane Times reported.

Dr. Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), also informed government officials that the costs of the cleanup had ballooned from the $50 million (about US $37 million) originally estimated a year ago to $141 million (about US $104 million) today.

As reported earlier, Waters is asking the federal and state governments to pay for the reef cleanup first and then recoup the costs from the tanker’s owners and its insurers later, following planned legal action.

Site Cleanup in Limbo

Although the Shen Neng 1 incident happened nearly six years ago, no cleanup of the site has begun to date, even as Waters and Reichelt claim toxins from the paint are negatively affecting new coral growth where the ship struck the reef.

The ship’s hull coating was a commonly used—and now banned—antifouling coating that contains a banned substance called tributyltin, known as TBT, as well as copper and zinc.

The highly toxic TBT has become embedded on the coral rock at the site because of the lack of cleanup activity, experts say. Reichelt also notes that it is present in the gravel on the ocean floor.

"Principally what it [the lead paint] is doing is preventing the natural recovery of that system," Reichelt told the committee.

"It is so concentrated that the bacteria that would normally break down metal residues like that have been killed by the intensity of the toxicity," he added.

There is up to 20 tonnes of banned lead paint from the hull of the ship, according to Reichelt, the Times noted.

Reichelt informed that committee that the GBRMPA has amended its claims related to the cleanup requirements and are pursuing legal action to collect those costs.

“In the last month we have been very specific in our claim to the court for $141 million [AUD] for the cleanup," he said.

"The cleanup is still urgent," he said in the hearing.

Legal Action, Delays

For the past two and a half years, the Australian government has pursued a case to make the ship’s owners and/or insurers pay for the damage and cleanup because reports indicate the ship was traveling 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) outside the shipping channel when it crashed into the reef at full speed.

The GBRMPA is taking the owners of the Shen Neng 1 and the insurance arm, the London Insurance and Indemnity Club, to court.

The trial, which was set for the Federal Court in Brisbane this April, has since been delayed until September.

"There's been yet another delay in what has already been a five-year process, pushing back the court hearing from April to September," Waters said before the committee.

Waters and other officials are eager to have the government provide upfront funding to the GBRMPA so it can begin work on the cleanup while the court case continues. To date, the reef agency has received no extra funding to use toward cleanup, reports indicate.

"The Reef and the workers who rely on its health cannot just be left waiting around while this toxic wreck keeps polluting," Waters said.

"This mess is highly toxic to marine life and the federal and State governments should urgently clean it up instead of waiting around for lengthy legal proceedings," she added.


Tagged categories: Antifoulants; Asia Pacific; Cleanup; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Latin America; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Marine Coatings; North America; Shipyards; Zinc

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