THE CHINESE coal ship, the Shen Neng 1, that almost created an environmental disaster in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef, is about to become a potential danger to the pristine waters off World Heritage-listed Fraser Island.
Marine authorities say adverse weather conditions have forced them to ditch plans to tow the Shen Neng 1 into the Port of Gladstone and instead they are coming to Hervey Bay.
The ship hit the Douglas Shoal on Easter Saturday, spilling four tonnes of heavy fuel oil from its ruptured fuel tank and causing extensive damage to the reef.
Following a request and advice from salvors, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on Thursday ordered the vessel be taken to a more protected position.
The ship will move to a safe anchorage between the mainland and Fraser Island in the northern reaches of Hervey Bay.
While there it will have coal unloaded on to smaller vessels before being towed overseas. It is expected that relocating the Shen Neng 1 to Hervey Bay will start mid next week.
AMSA deputy CEO Mick Kinley said the decision to move the ship was made following a request from the salvors.
“The ship will only remain in the Hervey Bay area for the minimum time necessary to lighten it,” he said.
Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the ship remained structurally sound despite damage it sustained when it grounded on Douglas Shoal.
“During last week’s attempt to bring the ship into port five tow lines snapped on the attending tugs due to movement of the vessels from wind and swell,” Mr Quirk said.
“These tow lines are as thick as a down-pipe and every time one snaps it’s a risk to life and limb.”
Mr Quirk said the inspection by divers had confirmed the vessel was safe to tow to Hervey Bay.
Once safely situated off Hervey Bay, Mr Quirk said, a second transfer vessel would pull alongside and remove around half of the coal on board.
“Once about half the coal is removed the ship should be ready to take into international waters and be towed overseas,” he said.
Maritime experts completed a 33-hour operation on Thursday night to remove 1500 tonnes of oil and oily water from the Shen Neng 1 on to a 50m bunker barge.
“A small quantity of oil remains on the ship in safe storage to fuel generators providing power to the ship’s living quarters and essential equipment,” Mr Quirk said.
Federal member for Hinkler Paul Neville said he was not given a chance to debate “serious concerns about the potential impact on the Fraser marine parks”.
“I’m the federal member for this area and the only way I found out about this was through the media; it’s just not right,” he said.
“This has the potential to be an environmental disaster and I am most concerned.”
Hervey Bay MP Ted Sorensen was critical of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for not announcing the decision to “dump” the carrier in Wide Bay waters during his visit to the region.
“I was advised by the Transport Minister that the decision had been made to move the ship to Hervey Bay, to unload its cargo before it is towed back to Asia.
“This decision was made by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Federal Government today, so why was Mr Rudd so tight-lipped about the move?”
Mr Sorensen said he had sought assurances that all necessary precautions would be taken to ensure that Fraser Island and Hervey Bay’s whale watching season was not hurt by the ship’s presence.
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