Even as efforts are still on to staunch the leak in the grounded Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1, yet another ship has been caught entering a restricted area of the Great Barrier Reef without permission.
Three of the crew, two from Korea and one from Vietnam were arrested last night in Bowen when Australian Federal Police searched the MV Mimosa. Navigational equipment and charts were seized. They face fines of up to $220,000.
AdvertisementIt is alleged the ship travelled through an unidentified shipping route and ignored warnings, having failed to register with the reef vessel tracking system.
Authorities say they have removed more than 150 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from Shen Neng 1, which is carrying 950 tonnes of fuel - only one tank has been ruptured, and the 150 tonnes of fuel in this tank is largely being kept in the ship by a "plug" of water directly below it.
Maritime Safety Queensland General Manager Patrick Quirk said forecast conditions at the moment was encouraging but nothing would be taken for granted.
"Water has entered the vulnerable tanks, however, sea pressure is holding the oil in position, which is why there is so little oil in the water at the moment."
The unloading will only take place in daylight hours, as authorities want to see that no oil is escaping during the operation.
Contingency plans for a significant spill are in place, it has been stated.
After the ship is refloated divers will be able to make a fuller assessment of damage, and depending on that level of damage, the ship could be towed back to China or taken back to Gladstone for repairs.
More than two tonnes of fuel oil escaped into the ocean when the ship hit a coral shoal off central Queensland last saturday.
The Australian Federal Police has confirmed it has launched an investigation into the grounding of a Chinese coal carrier off the central Queensland coast.
FEDERAL investigators are examining whether the first mate of the Chinese ship was snoozing on-duty.
The Shen Neng 1 hit Douglas Shoal, about 80km off the central Queensland coast, at 5.10pm last Saturday, but there was a two-hour delay before Australian authorities were notified, and the First Mate was on duty during this time.
The Shen Neng 1 was at anchor outside Gladstone Port for nine days before coming into port on Friday night and loading 65,000 tonnes of coking coal overnight, a process overseen by the First Mate, before heading back out to sea at 10.54 on Saturday morning.
It is the First Mate who has to oversee the coal loading and then take his place on the bridge shortly after the vessel leaves port.
Federal investigators are looking at a range of possibilities, but one focus of the investigation is the alertness of the First Mate when the accident occurred and immediately before the accident.
Meantime Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan says the Chinese company that owns the ship will be forced to meet the full costs associated with the grounding.
"Make no mistake - this company will pay a very substantial price for this incident," she said.
"Their ship was off course in very environmentally sensitive areas and they will pay the price."
But experts are skeptical as to how much money could be extracted from the ship owners. For there is a ceiling under the Bunker Pollution Convention for compensation claims.
Professor Nick Gaskell, an international maritime law expert at the University of Queensland, says, "Mmy calculations on the information available to me indicate that the maximum sum for this ship will be in the region of $23.5 million."
Professor Gaskell doubts that amount will cover the clean-up bill in an environmentally sensitive area like the Great Barrier Reef, particularly after last year's spill off Moreton Bay in Queensland left a clean-up and compensation bill of about $31 million, with the State Government only able to retrieve $23 million.