A chinese coal carrier has run around on the GBR. The irony is palpable.
UPDATE: The ship was carrying about 65,000 tonnes of coal and 950 tonnes of oil (via Courier Mail).
From the AP via the NYT:
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — A coal-carrying ship that ran aground and was leaking oil on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was in danger of breaking apart, officials said Sunday.
The Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals, a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort. The shoals are in a protected part of the reef where shipping is restricted by environmental law off the coast of Queensland state in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Authorities fear an oil spill will damage the world’s largest coral reef off northeast Australia, listed as a World Heritage site for its environmental value.
The ship hit the reef at full speed, nine miles (15 kilometers) outside the shipping lane, State Premier Anna Bligh said.
A police boat was standing by to remove the 23 crew if the ship broke apart and an evacuation was necessary, she said.
Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early Sunday, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss from the 1,000 tons (950 metric tons) of oil on board.
”We are now very worried we might see further oil discharged from this ship,” Bligh told reporters.
Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the vessel was badly damaged on its port side.
”At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up,” he told reporters. ”We are still very concerned about the ship.”
”It is in danger of actually breaking a number of its main structures and breaking into a number of parts,” he added.
A salvage contract had been signed but the operation would be difficult and assessing the damage to the ship could take a week, Quirk said.
Bligh said she feared the salvage operation could spill more oil, which could reach the mainland coast within two days.
Local emergency crews were on standby to clean any oil that reached mainland beaches, she said.
Aircraft on Sunday began spraying a chemicals on the oil patches to disperse it, she said.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said authorities had been working through the night to determine what risks the ship posed to the environment.
”The government is very conscious of the importance of the Great Barrier Reef environment and ensuring that impacts on its ecology are effectively managed,” Garrett said in a statement.
The 755 foot (230 meter) bulk carrier was carrying about 72,000 U.S. tons (65,000 metric tons) of coal to China and ran aground within hours of leaving the Queensland port of Gladstone.
Conservationists have expressed outrage that bulk carriers can travel through the reef without a marine pilot with local expertise.
”The state government is being blinded by royalties and their shortsightedness will go down in history as killing the reef,” said Larissa Waters, spokeswoman for the Queensland Greens environmentally focused political party.
Bligh said the question of when ships should require a marine pilot on the reef was under review because of the increase in freight traffic that will flow from new gas and coal export contracts to China.
She said a separate inquiry would determine how the ship came to stray from its shipping lane.
Quirk said state authorities were seeking information about the effect the coal could have on the reef environment if the ship broke up before its cargo can be salvaged.
This looks bad but don’t lose sight of the fact that everything on this ship was destined to be burned and dumped into the atmosphere for all to breathe.
139 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide (assuming volumes in the article and ‘Bituminous’ and ‘Residual Fuel’ CO2 values on http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/coefficients.html).
And don’t make a big deal of this either. The Niagra Falls hydro plant saves that much CO2 every 10 minutes. The Three Gorges Dam saves that much CO2 every 25 seconds. M
‘David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority says while he fears for the fate of the oil in the ships tanks, he is far more concerned about the impact of climate change on the reef than a lost Chinese coal ship.
“There is no doubt that climate change is the greatest long term threat to the reef.”
The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009 examined the likely threats to the long-term viability of the reef, which brings in around $6 billion in tourism dollars each year. Falling into both the categories of “almost certain” to occur and “catastrophic” if it did, are the twin dangers of rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification, both of which are a result of climate change.
Oil spills are considered far less of a threat both because they are less likely, and their damage is localised if it does occur.
“Climate change is not a localised impact,” says Wachenfeld. “Unlike an oil spill, it doesn’t happen in one place; it happens everywhere. So the issue is scale. That’s what brings climate change to the top of the list. It’s simply the scale of the impact.”
There is an irony that the cargo the stranded ship is carrying is coal. Even if the ship lost its entire supply of oil, the environmental catastrophe would still be less than the impact of the world’s continued burning of fossil fuels.
So if Kevin Rudd is sincere about taking “any threat to the Great Barrier Reef fundamentally seriously” he should perhaps be looking more closely at the cargo on the ship, than its route or the hole in its fuel tank.’
The wider media have honed in on this lesser issue of an oil spill as it provides a much more tangible threat to the GBR than climate change does to the public. So this “localised impact” which David Wachenfield speaks of in the ABC news article (link in above comment) is not only why oil spills present far less of a threat, but also why there is so much more coverage of this oil spill than the also current but more detrimental effects of climate change.
Is this a curse or a blessing in disguise? Will media coverage of smaller threats make the public increasingly aware of the reef, building up to an awareness of greater and more long term threats which can’t necessarily be communicated in a single photo? Or is the coverage of smaller threats a mere distraction from the bigger picture of climate change? I can’t predict the public response to such matters, but I wonder whether such coverage is helping or hindering the protection of the reef? Is any publicity good publicity? And will good publicity lead to appropriate political action?