BRISBANE, Australia — A coal-carrying ship that strayed outside a shipping lane and ran aground in protected waters was leaking oil on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and was in danger of breaking apart, officials said yesterday.
The Chinese Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals, a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort. The shoals, off the coast of Queensland state in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, are in a protected part of the reef where shipping is restricted by environmental law.
Authorities fear that an oil spill will damage the world’s largest coral reef, which is off northeast Australia and listed as a World Heritage site.
The ship hit the reef at full speed, 9 miles outside the shipping lane, State Premier Anna Bligh said.
A police boat was standing by to remove the 23 crew if the ship broke apart and an evacuation was necessary, she said.
Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early yesterday, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss from the 1,000 tons of oil on board.
Patrick Quirk, Maritime Safety Queensland general manager, said the vessel is badly damaged on its port side. A salvage contract has been signed, but the operation will be difficult and assessing the damage to the ship could take a week, Quirk said.
Bligh said she fears the salvage operation could spill more oil, which could reach the mainland coast within two days.
Local emergency crews were on standby to clean any oil that reaches mainland beaches, she said.
Aircraft yesterday began spraying chemicals on the oil patches to disperse them.
Peter Garrett, federal environment minister, said authorities worked through the night to determine what risks the ship poses to the environment.