Chinese ship Shen Neng1

The Chinese ship Shen Neng1 throws up coral dust while stranded on the Great Barrier Reef. Pic EPA

A Chinese cargo ship which smashed into the famous Great Barrier Reef earlier this month gouged a massive one-mile-long channel through the fabulous coral.

The damage was so severe, said scientists, that it could take more than 20 years for the reef to recover from the 250 yard wide scar created by the rogue coal-carrying vessel, the Shen Neng 1, which has been accused of taking a short cut through the reef, off the Queensland coast.
‘This is by far the largest ship grounding scar we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef to date,’ said Mr David Wachenfeld, chief scientist of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park authority.
‘This vessel did not make an impact in one place and rest there and was then pulled off. There is massive damage.’
In fact, said divers who inspected the vessel when it was finally pulled clear of the reef  late on Monday, April 12,  it hit the coral at so much speed that it kept going after the initial impact, crushing all the colourful undersea outcrops in its path.
Apart from the collision damage to the reef – a major tourist attraction – the coral had been placed in extreme danger from paint that had ‘rubbed off’ from the vessel’s hull.
The marine park authority’s chairman, Mr Russell Reichelt, said that as well as the collision damage, the toxic paint had already begun killing the coral.
As the Sheng Nen 1 was towed to safe waters off Great Keppel Island – where work will continue to make it safe to sail on to China – Mr Reichelt told of his concerns for the reef.
‘The paint that’s scraped off onto the reef is killing corals in its vicinity,’ he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
‘It could be weeks before the full extent of the damage is known and lessons must be learned from this grounding,’ he said.
The captain of the Sheng Nen 1, which is named after a mediaeval Chinese emperor, has been accused by conservationists of taking a short cut close to the reef on its journey north along the Queensland coast, instead of heading further out to sea.
For many of the nine days the coal-carrier was stranded a white plume could be seen around the vessel, evidence that the hull was crushing coral as it moved with the swell and the wind.
A team of marine scientists, aided by divers, is at the scene of the grounding to carry out a full assessment of the environmental damage.
A full report will be given to Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett as authorities consider charging the captain and the owners of the vessel.
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