HUNDREDS of ships have been caught breaking laws intended to prevent an environmental disaster in the Great Barrier Reef.
About one ship every two days is failing to report its position before entering the Reef, raising fears foreign crews with limited knowledge of Australian maritime law are ignoring basic rules to safeguard against an oil spill in the marine park.
Ships of 50m or more and all oil tankers must report their positions before entering the reef so their journey through its waters can be automatically tracked and a computer-generated warning issued should they stray off course.
Most of the 250 cases of ships breaching reporting laws in the past 18 months were in a section of reef where new rules were introduced following the 2010 grounding of bulk carrier Shen Neng 1.
The Chinese carrier was loaded with 65,000 tonnes of coal when it ran aground on Douglas Shoal 80km north of Rockhampton, gouging a 3km-long scar in the reef and spilling tonnes of oil.
Mandatory reporting and vessel tracking was extended to the southern border of the reef after the incident.
Australian Reef Pilots chief executive Simon Meyjes said it was another reason for mandatory pilotage of ships through the whole of the marine park.
“About two-thirds the length of the marine park does not require a pilot onboard the ship,” he said.
“A lot of ships arrive in Australia with a foreign crew with no local knowledge.
“If they are failing to do that (report) it makes the job of alerting them to a potential risk that much more difficult.”
Failing to report a position does not mean a ship has strayed from designated shipping lanes or rat run through the reef.
But it makes it harder for officials to program a ship’s intended route so a warning can be generated should it steam into danger.
Townsville-based Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service manager Mick Bishop said vessels were still closely monitored by staff using satellite-tracking.
Two staff a shift monitor 40-50 ships in the reef at any one time.
“The most important thing is that they report the route they intend to follow,” Mr Bishop said of the reporting rules.
“Once they do that we can then electronically program that into the VTS (vessel tracking service) and we would then get alerted if there was any deviation from that route that they hadn’t given us prior notification of.
“The reason (for failing to notify staff) would be they were unaware of the requirement to report. I don’t think we have people trying to sneak in.”
- Cargo ship risk to Barrier Reef (smh.com.au)
- Checking on the health of the Great Barrier Reef (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Australia ‘losing the war’ to save reef (news.com.au)