Oil spill threatens Great Barrier Reef

Australian officials warn that the
Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger of being further contaminated by oil
after a Chinese ship ran aground off Queensland.  The vessel is stuck on a
sandbar and has already leaked at least two tons of dark sludge into the water,
creating a slick up to a mile long.

A frantic clean-up operation is under way where the Chinese-registered coal
ship, Shen Neng 1, is aground in an area where commercial shipping is
restricted to protect the world’s largest coral reef.
Aircraft have sprayed chemicals in an attempt to disperse the contamination.
There are concerns that the ship, which ran aground Saturday, may break up and
spill 950 tons of oil into the sea.
Salvage experts are on board to try to prevent that from happening.
The Queensland state premier, Anna Bligh, says the emergency team will help to
minimize the environmental damage.
“They are part of a major salvage team that will now begin what I think will
be a very complex and delicate operation to make sure we get this vessel off
the reef with as little damage as possible so that we prevent the possibility
of any major oil spill,” she said.  “This could be one of the
most complex and difficult salvage operations we have seen – certainly in Queensland
maritime history and possibly Australia’s,” she explained.
The ship was taking coal to China when it ran into a large sand bank.  Its
owners could face heavy fines because the vessel was sailing through restricted
waters.

Conservation groups have long been
concerned that freighters travel through the Great Barrier Reef without the
help of specially trained marine pilots.
The reef stretches for more than 1,553 miles along Australia’s northeast
coast.  It covers an area bigger than the United Kingdom and is largest
living structure on earth.  It is home to hundreds of thousands of species
of marine life, many of which are rare.
Scientists say its health is endangered by the effects of climate change, including
warmer ocean temperatures, as well as pollution that run off from farms.

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