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Australia Arrests Chinese Crew of Ship in Reef Accident
New York Times|
Australian police on Wednesday arrested two senior crew members in charge of the Chinese coal vessel that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef last week, causing serious damage to one of the world’s most famous coral outcroppings.
The Chinese captain and chief officer on watch during the April 3 accident were charged with damaging a protected marine environment after an investigation found that the freighter, Shen Neng 1, had strayed from its intended course.
Officials have said it could take up to 20 years for parts of the reef to recover from the collision, which has prompted widespread calls for more stringent controls on commercial vessels in Australian waters. The scar the ship made on the reef is 1.9 miles long and up to 820 feet wide.
The 47-year-old shipmaster, whose identity was not immediately made public, was charged with being liable for a vessel causing damage in a marine park, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 55,000 Australian dollars, or $51,200. The ship’s 44-year-old chief officer was charged with the more serious breach of being in charge of the vessel at the time the accident occurred. If convicted, he faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to 220,000 Australian dollars, or $205,000.
The two men were expected in court on Thursday in Gladstone, a town near the center of Australia’s eastern coast. The Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant on the ship on Wednesday, the culmination of a joint criminal investigation involving state and federal authorities, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The authorities said in a brief statement on Wednesday that the Shen Neng 1 crashed into the southern end of the reef on the evening of April 3 after it “failed to turn at a waypoint required by the intended course of the ship.” State and federal politicians have accused the ship of taking a shortcut through the reef to shave time off the two week journey from eastern Australia to China.
The Shen Neng 1 was hauled off the reef late Monday after a delicate three-day operation to remove the 1,075 tons of engine fuel in the ship’s tanks and lift it off the shoal. David Wachenfeld, the chief scientist with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Tuesday that it could take two decades for marine life to return to the section of the reef most badly damaged in the collision.
The Chinese freighter was carrying 72,000 tons of coal when it ran aground 44 miles east of Great Keppel Island, which is off eastern Australia about 370 miles north of Brisbane. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and iron ore and a major supplier to Asia, but environmental groups and many Australian politicians say the incident highlights the need for tighter controls on commercial vessels passing through Australian waters.