Tag Archives: Queensland

SHEN NENG 1 | Report praises response, considers future oil spills ‘inevitable’

Originally published in Tradewinds, 2010/10/06

“Significant environmental damage” from the grounding of a Chinese bulk carrier on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef earlier this year was prevented by an “immediate, extensive and effective” response.

Oil spills are, however, “inevitable” off the country’s coast, an independent report into the April grounding of the 70,200-dwt Shen Neng 1 (built 1993) found.

The China-flagged panamax was fully laden with coal when it grounded on Douglas Shoal off Queensland on 3 April. Between three and four tons of heavy fuel oil were spilled before the ship was refloated nine days later.

However, the situation could have been far worse were it not for the fact that “Queensland was well prepared” for the situation following an incident involving the 3,700-dwt Pacific Adventurer (now-Pacific Mariner, built 1991) off the state a year earlier.

The Shen Neng 1 grounding “could have caused significant environmental damage” resulting in 975 tons of heavy fuel oil and some 65,000 tons of coal being spilled, the report written by Graham Miller read.

“Although the vessel’s crew were in shock and initial reports from the vessel were unclear, early situational awareness was developed by the responding agencies,” it read.

However, “the operations achieved a positive outcome as a direct result of the immediate, extensive and effective incident response” which Miller also termed “well-resourced and well executed”.

The report pointed to the reasonably favourable location of the casualty site close to the port of Gladstone while weather conditions during the casualty were “generally favourable”.

The report was not designed to study the causes of the grounding but issued a warning to agencies that it was unlikely to be the last such incident in the state’s waters.

The incident, it wrote, “highlights the vulnerability of Queensland’s coastline to a significant oil spill incident. Increased shipping movements and the continued likelihood of severe climactic events suggests that the threat of marine oil spills will remain and that future oil spills are inevitable.”

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GROUNDING ON THE REEF | No easy way out

No matter how long Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd try to avoid their share of responsibility for the grounding of the bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by playing the ‘blame game’, it will not go away.

It is clear that the ship is at fault, willfully or not. The circumstances of the accident — engines full ahead, grounding on Douglas Shoals, several miles off-lane — provide indication that either the navigation team was unaware of their situation, or they violated the rules. Besides, the fact that this is is yet another accident in which the Chinese shipping giant COSCO is involved, after the Cosco Busan and Full City incidents, should raise more than a few eyebrows.

Blaming the master and the owner of the bulk carrier alone is very easy, though, and begs the questions about the possible inadequacy of risk mitigating measures in the area.

Mr Rudd said “there is no greater natural asset for Australia than the Great Barrier Reef.” If he really meant it, greater control over ships’ movements in the Great Barrier, such a Vessel Traffic System or compulsory, should have already been in place. However, despite the increasing traffic in the area and the foreseeable consequences of an accident in that region, the government had no VTS to warn that Shen Neng 1 departed from the lane, and no law to make the ship take a pilot, for the sake of public interest.

It is not enough to ‘throw the book’ at the captain and COSCO. It is not enough to be ‘outraged’. Lip service may help with public opinion, but it does nothing for the environment or for safer shipping.

Next time, if nothing changes, it can be a tanker.

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