A coal ship stuck on the Great Barrier Reef could spew more than 900 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the premier marine park if it breaks apart as a result of the high-speed crash.
The Chinese-owned, 230 metre-long bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground about 70 kilometres east of Great Keppel Island shortly after 5pm on Saturday.
Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the ship was at risk of breaking apart as result of the impact of the high-speed crash.
"At one stage [on Saturday] night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up," Mr Quirk said yesterday.
"The vessel, on our current assessments, ran aground at full speed on the port side and she is completely damaged on the port side. We are still very concerned about the ship."
"It is in danger of actually breaking a number of its main structures and breaking into a number of parts."
Maritime authorities and Yeppoon Water Police are on standby to rescue the ship's 24 crew members if required.
Maritime Safety Queensland yesterday raced to disperse the ribbon of spilled oil, which measured 3000 metres by 1000 metres on the reef.
A small plane delivered two doses of chemical dispersants to the two tonnes of oil, which drifted about four kilometres south-east of the Shen Neng 1.
The oil spill was contained to two small patches, but a white stain of pulverised coral stretched for kilometres around the bulk carrier.
A specialist salvage team boarded vessel last night to plan the mammoth retrieval operation.
Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said a salvage contract had been agreed but it could take a week to assess the damage.
The challenge for the vessel salvors is to refloat the ship without spilling any of the 975 tonnes of stored oil or the bulk carrier's load of 65,000 tonnes of coal.
The disatrous oil spill in waters off Stradbroke Island last year, which saw 30 tonnes of fuel spilled along the pristine island coast, would pale in comparison to the looming environmental disaster on the Great Barrier Reef.
Computer modelling has shown it would take two days for any further oil leaks to hit the beaches in the Shoalwater Bay National Park, Premier Anna Bligh said, describing such an event as "very worrying".
Ms Bligh said local State Emergency Service crews are on standby should any oil reach land within the next 48 hours.
The Shen Neng 1 was travelling at full speed from Gladstone without a marine pilot in a restricted zone - 15 kilometers outside the shipping lane - when it hit Douglas Shoal.
Its crew did not notify authorities for two hours.
The bulk carrier's presence in the restricted zone will be the subject of an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Although the absence of a marine pilot onboard will be a matter for the government to examine, as the shipping company was not required by law to employ a pilot.
Greens leader Bob Brown called on the government to make it mandatory for bulk carriers to have a marine pilot onboard when travelling through the inner passage of the Great Barrier Reef.
"Both Canberra and Brisbane have bowed to the coal and shipping companies to avoid this common sense requirement," Mr Brown said in a statement yesterday.
Ms Bligh said the issue of pilotage through parts of the reef is under active study given the increased number of vessels as huge amounts of coal and liquified natural gas are exported.
Queensland Greens spokeswoman Larissa Waters said the Great Barrier Reef should not be used as a coal highway.
"The state government is being blinded by royalties and their short-sightedness will go down in history as killing the reef," Ms Waters said.
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at 2:24 PM Posted by Oceanic Defense