Brisbane – Cargo ships that enter restricted waters of the Great Barrier Reef will face the full force of Australian law, the Prime Minister said, after a vessel ran aground and leaked fuel oil on the world’s largest coral reef.
Salvage crews are still working to remove 1 000 tons of heavy fuel oil from the Shen Neng 1, which slammed into a shoal more than a week ago after veering into protected waters.
In a sign authorities are serious about stepping up protection of the fragile reef, police arrested three crew of another boat that allegedly entered a restricted part of the reef.
“If we have any foreign vessel or any vessel violating the proper protection of the Great Barrier Reef, they should have the book thrown at them,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters.
Coral shredded one part of the Chinese ship, and three or four tons of oil leaked from a ruptured fuel tank. That oil was dispersed by chemical sprays and is believed to have caused little or no damage.
Officials must remove the remaining oil in order to safely refloat the ship and prevent any further spillage.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese took an aerial view of the site on Sunday and said a decision on refloating the ship could be made on Monday. He echoed the prime minister’s anger at the grounding.
“It is quite clear this vessel went on a course that was unlawful,” Albanese said. “The Australian government will ensure that the full force of the law is brought to bear on those responsible… and we will also ensure compensation is paid with regard to the cost of cleaning up.”
The Australian Federal Police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are investigating alleged breaches of the law in the accident.
Meanwhile, Australian Federal Police said they have arrested three men from a Panama-flagged coal boat that allegedly entered restricted reef waters last week.
The crew of the MV Mimosa have been charged with entering a prohibited zone of the reef without permission and will appear in court on Monday. They face maximum fines of A$220 000 ($205 000).