Great Barrier Reef protection laws to be reviewed

Fri 09 Apr 

Great Barrier Reef protection laws to be reviewed

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has suggested that an overhaul of measures to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental disasters should be implemented.


During his fly-over of the stricken vessel Shen Neng 1, Mr Rudd said he is open to the idea of putting more pilots on cargo ships travelling near the World Heritage-listed reef. He says he'll also look at whether there's a case to tighten laws to better protect an asset of such global importance.


Whilst not wishing to over-react he said it was outrageous that a ship could be so far off course in a protected area, and the Government was open to ideas to better protect the reef. "Existing penalties allowed for fines of up to $5.5 million, and jail time of up to three years if a captain was found to be negligent", he said.


"My view is that the law must be fully and absolutely applied in these circumstances. Australians take the Great Barrier Reef very, very seriously," he said.


Maritime authorities say they've stemmed the oil leak but still fear the badly-damaged vessel could break up if the weather turns bad.  Equipment is arriving to pump the heavy fuel oil and about 100 tonnes of diesel oil off the vessel and onto another ship tomorrow.


"Authorities are still considering whether to try to offload 65,000 tonnes of coal", Premier Anna Bligh said. "If it is possible to refloat the ship with the coal on board, that's how it will be managed. But the calculations are still being undertaken by the salvage team," she said.


Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) general manager Patrick Quirk said everything was being done to ensure the ship was salvaged intact, but there were no guarantees. He said there was nothing illegal about the ships intended route but the vessel strayed off course and ended up grounded in a restricted part of the marine park. "Navigating a ship through these waters is not rocket science," Mr Quirk said. "Any competent crew should be able to do that and we were just totally gobsmacked on Saturday night to find where she had gone aground."


The grounding happened outside the coverage area of a vessel tracking system, which would have alerted authorities about the ship straying off course, Mr Quirk said.


Asked if he'd support an expansion of the tracking system he said: "There'll be a number of recommendations to Government and we'll be very forceful in upping our risk management of this area."