A team of marine scientists are to begin the first thorough investigation of damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by the grounding of the coal carrier, Shen Neng 1.
The research vessel of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the 24 metre, RV Cape Ferguson will provide the platform for the team's investigations at Douglas Shoal, where the ship ran aground.
The team will assess the scale and severity of the physical damage of the grounding; as well as the level of contamination from anti-foulant paint.
The AIMS cruise leader, Dr Andrew Negri said a multi-beam sonar would be used to map the sea floor to quantify physical damage to the structure of the reef.
"This instrument can resolve the seabed to less than 10 centimetres, which means it will accurately record the damage caused by the ship's hull," he said.
Dr Negri said marine scientists would be diving with video cameras to take footage of the impacts on reef organisms such as corals, sponges and algae.
"In the areas that are too deep for divers, we have specialised cameras that can be towed by the ship," he said.
Dr Negri said the hulls of most large vessels are coated with an anti-fouling paint to reduce the growth of algae and barnacles.
"This paint usually contains toxic chemicals, including heavy metals and/or herbicides and if a ship is grounded, it usually scrapes onto the reef," he said.
Samples of the sediments will be taken for analysis to provide the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with a rapid baseline contamination assessment of the site.Dr Negri said previous ship groundings had contaminated up to one hectare of the reef. Movement of the Shen Neng 1 since it was first grounded on Easter Saturday, means the area of physical damage and contamination may be much larger.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, James Cook University and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service will be providing support to the AIMS team during the investigation, which is expected to take about four days.
Meantime the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says the crew of the Chinese coal carrier had failed to change course as planned.
ATSB head Martin Dolan says by the time the crew realised they were off course, about 30 minutes later, it was too late.
He says the results of the initial examination into the April 3 incident show a variety of factors contributed to the mishap, including the fact that the ship's first mate had only slept for a little over two-and-a-half hours in the previous day-and-a-half.
The ship's Master, Jichang Wang, and Chief Officer-on-Watch, Xuegang Wang, have appeared in the Gladstone Magistrate's Court in central Queensland charged over the accident.
The two Chinese nationals were arrested by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on board the Shen Neng 1 yesterday afternoon.
The pair spent the night in custody.
Both were granted conditional bail and will reappear in court in June.
The Chief Officer, who has been charged with more serious offences, has been ordered to surrender his passport.
In a related development, clean-up crews removed about six bags of oil-soaked sand from a beach on North West Island, about 10 nautical miles from where the ship ran aground.
Poor weather conditions yesterday prevented divers from further examining the ship's hull.
Maritime authorities say it could be a few days before divers go back in the water.