Today marks anniversary of Great Barrier Reef disaster
IT WAS three years ago today a bulk carrier ran aground on one of Australia's most treasured natural wonders - but the disaster's ramifications still live on.
Packed with coal and following a route a marine pilot had mapped through the Great Barrier Reef, the 225-metre Shen Neng 1 made its journey home to China from Gladstone on April 3, 2010.
The vessel's crew diverted from the prescribed route - a decision which proved disastrous.
The ship caused damage to a 400,000sqm section of the Great Barrier Reef, the equivalent of 58 football fields, as it ploughed through Douglas Shoal about 120km from Rockhampton.
Three to four tons of oil also spilled out into the marine park, washing up on pristine reef islands up to 25km away.
Days later the vessel was towed to waters off Hervey Bay, where 19,000 tons of coal was unloaded to enable the embattled ship to journey home, leaving behind a political and environmental firestorm in its wake.
While the Great Barrier Reef has seen tightened regulation since the disaster - including an expanded reef tracking system - Fight for the Reef campaigners are using the third anniversary to call for greater regulation.
The Queensland Resources Council stated last year, 4800 large commercial vessel travelled to ports adjacent to the reef each year but that figure was forecasted to grow to 7500 by 2020.
In light of this, Fight for the Reef campaign leader Richard Leck said government needed to introduce compulsory marine pilotage for all ships navigating through the Great Barrier Reef.
Currently, pilots are only required for certain areas of the reef."We hear there are a lot of near misses that happen regularly and it is just by pure luck we have not had a catastrophic incident," Mr Leck said.
"There are other management arrangements in place - like tracking systems which are great - but in terms of really minimising the risk…having pilots on board is one of the best management measures".
A Transport and Main Roads spokesman said a report into the Shen Neng disaster recommended the vessel traffic service be expanded to the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to mitigate grounding risks. The extension occurred in 2011.
"Several safety measures have been initiated, implemented or improved by AMSA in partnership with Maritime Safety Queensland to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait," the spokesman said.
"These measures include the introduction of compulsory coastal pilotage, setting up a high capability coastal vessel traffic service, implementing enhanced ship routing, continuous improvement to navigational aids, opening of safer passages and improved charting."