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Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 14:53 UK

Australia PM brands Barrier Reef grounding 'outrageous'

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Kevin Rudd said the practical challenge was to 'deal with the situation now'

Australian PM Kevin Rudd has voiced anger over the grounding of a Chinese ship in the Great Barrier Reef.

Mr Rudd said it was "outrageous" the ship had apparently strayed off course through the marine park before running aground and leaking oil into the water.

He said the situation remained serious and vowed to bring those responsible for the disaster to account.

Officials say the ship is badly damaged but stable and that the threat of oil slicks has been largely contained.

Mr Rudd said there was "no greater natural asset for Australia than the Great Barrier Reef" and that he took any threat to the marine park "fundamentally seriously".

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"From where I sit, it is outrageous that any vessel could find itself 12km off course, it seems, in the Great Barrier Reef," he said, after inspecting the site of the grounding by helicopter.

"The practical challenge is to deal with this situation now, then is to bring to account those who are responsible."

The Chinese-registered ship is balanced precariously on Douglas Shoal, off the east coast of Great Keppel Island.

Map of Queensland showing where ship is stranded

There were fears that the vessel could break up, spilling hundreds of tonnes of oil.

But officials said a small oil slick had already been broken up by chemical dispersants, while booms would be deployed to protect the surrounding area in case of further leaks.

A tug boat is at the scene to help prevent it from keeling over and to assist with any attempt at refloating the stricken vessel. Its Chinese crew have remained on board.

'Hour-by-hour'

An investigation has been launched to find out how the bulk carrier ended up stranded on the delicate coral of the Barrier Reef.


All I'm saying is that some vessels may not always utilise best practice

Patrick Quirk, MSQ

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the crew had filed a shipping plan indicating they intended to take the route between Douglas Island and the Capricorn Islands, ABC news reported.

"The route they were following was a recognised and correct route," an Amsa spokeswoman told the AFP news agency.

"But obviously somewhere along the way something went wrong and they ended up on the Douglas Shoal which is, in fact, a restricted area."

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) said the route the ship took was, while not illegal, not the preferred one.

Patrick Quirk of MSQ said he had heard reports from fishermen of ships taking shorter routes through the area in the past.

"I do not doubt what the fishermen are telling us. We have thousands and thousands of vessel movements on the Queensland coast every year," he told reporters.

"All I'm saying is that some vessels may not always utilise best practice. We are not always aware of those occasions."

Mr Quirk said the ship appeared to have been stabilised but that workers were managing the situation "on an hour-by-hour, risk-by-risk basis".

Queensland State Premier Anna Bligh has said the ship's owners, the Shenzhen Energy Group, could be fined up to A$1m ($920,000) for straying.

"There are safe authorised shipping channels and that's where this ship should have been," she said.

The 230-metre (754-ft) Shen Neng 1 is carrying 950 tonnes of oil and about 65,000 tonnes of coal.

It was heading to China from the Queensland port of Gladstone.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef system and extends for more than 2,500km.

Celebrated as the world's largest living organism, it is already feared under threat from climate change.



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