Australia said it is expanding protection along the entire 3,000-kilometer (1,800-mile) Great Barrier Reef after a Chinese coal carrier ran aground this month, damaging a section of the World Heritage-listed area.
Ships of 50 meters or more in length and oil tankers, liquefied gas and chemical carriers “irrespective of length” will be required to report their positions in the southern section of the reef, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said in an e-mail. Currently, only vessels using the northern area must announce their positions.
The “sensitive marine ecosystem” is “one of our most precious environmental assets,” Albanese said of the Barrier Reef that is home to 1,500 species of fish and 400 varieties of coral, according to the United Nations.
More than 6,000 ships pass through the marine park off the coast of Australia’s Queensland state each year. The Shen Neng 1 slammed into the Douglas Shoal in the southern part of the reef on April 3, leaving a 3-kilometer-long scar and a trail of pulverized coral and spilling 4 metric tons of fuel oil.
Custodial powers over the reef are granted to Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, by the International Maritime Organization and changes to shipping must be approved by the UN agency. Foreign ships carry 99 percent of Australia’s international trade and 30 percent of domestic coastal trade, according to the Maritime Union of Australia.
The IMO approved the mandatory ship reporting system for the northern part of the marine park in 1997. The planned extension will cover a 600-kilometer stretch of the coast from Mackay to Bundaberg.
“We would certainly support” the government’s application to the IMO, Chief Executive Officer of Shipping Australia Ltd. Llew Russell said in a phone interview. “It is long overdue to extend it south.”
Russell represents an industry that carries more than A$200 billion ($184 billion) worth of cargo in and out of Australia each year.
The “sensible” plan to expand monitoring to the southern part of the reef without imposing other conditions such as mandatory use of marine pilots will reduce uncertainty for the industry, he said.
Data from the tracking system will show whether vessels are straying or not reporting and will demonstrate whether pilots should be compulsory, Russell said. The pilots, who use local knowledge to guide ships through more difficult routes, are available now on a voluntary basis in international waters.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is from Queensland, had called for a review of shipping routes, vessels and the wider use of pilots after the grounding of the Chinese vessel.
The Shen Neng 1 was carrying 68,000 metric tons of coal and 975 tons of fuel oil to China from Gladstone when it hit the reef. It is now anchored for inspection near Barren Island, off the coast of Queensland.
The Australian Federal Police said on April 14 the ship’s master Jichang Wang, 47, and chief officer Xuegang Wang, 44, were charged with causing damage to the reef. Both were released on bail to face Gladstone Magistrates Court on June 9.
To contact the reporter on this story: Marion Rae in Canberra at firstname.lastname@example.org