Chinese Coal Carrier Leaking Oil Near Great Barrier Reef

Matt DiGiovanni

On Apr. 4 the Shen Neng 1, a Chinese coal carrier, ran aground near the Great Barrier Reef.  At the time of the incident, the ship had veered nearly fifteen kilometers off course.  This resulted in a spill of three kilometers by one hundred meters, and while this is considered small scale, there is still the potential for the entire 950 tons of fuel and 65,000 tons of coal to spill if the ship experiences any massive structural failure.

In an effort to clean up the spill as quickly as possible to prevent any effects on the reef itself, planes have been spraying chemical dispersants on the oil slick.  Currently, authorities do not know whether the spill will have any ill effects on the reef and the overall ecology, but everyone agrees that any pollution of the Great Barrier Reef is too much.  Human impact on the reef is already apparent due to climate change and toxic farm chemicals, and that is partly why authorities now take dangers to the Great Barrier Reef so seriously.

The Great Barrier Reef covers 133,000 square miles along Australia’s northeastern coast, and in addition to being the world’s largest living organism, it is also an important tourism generator for Australia.  These factors made this spill a huge issue to Maritime Safety Queensland, who are now considering requiring pilots throughout the entire shipping channel near the Great Barrier Reef. This is an effort to eliminate future spills.  Conservationists warn that there will be more spills, citing that last year there was a spill near Moreton Island and Sunshine Coast beaches, and with newly tapped natural gas and coal resources, more ships will be in this area than ever before. This will be putting this great natural wonder at higher risk. The Australian government will continue to monitor the oil slick and determine the best methods for safe removal, both for the ship and the Great Barrier Reef it endangers.