After visiting the reef to witness the carrier and its surrounds, Greens Senator Bob Brown dubbed the route “the coal highway”.
“Speculation is growing that a large number of these huge ships, including oil containers, move illegally through this lane near the Douglas Shoal and nothing’s been done about it by the authorities,” Senator Brown said on ABC radio.
Local fishermen have confirmed Sen Brown’s suspicions. “I have definitely seen ships between Douglas Shoal and Great Keppel Island,” Rockhampton fisherman Stephen Pills told The Epoch Times.
Mr Pills, the manager of Barra Jacks Fishing and Outdoors, asked another fisherman in his shop who said most of the coal containers coming in and out of Gladstone used that route.
“I saw one when I was outside there last Friday [April 2],” the fisherman said. “It was the same size as the one stuck on the reef, but it was going south to Gladstone.”
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says a full investigation is underway as to why the ship was almost 30km from authorized shipping channels.
“This is a very serious incident. This ship has acted illegally going into these restricted areas [of the marine park],” she said.
“The Commonwealth Government is now investigating how this happened and I hope, frankly, they throw the book at them.”
Rockhampton lawyer Graham Scott said he was not aware that the ships were acting illegally.
Mr Scott runs a charter boat service to fishing areas just north of Douglas Shoal and has worked closely with GBRMPA. Large ships regularly use the route, he said, but the area was marked in light blue or general usage on GBRMPA maps and so he had not seen it as a problem.
“It’s a reasonably safe passage,” he said, noting that Douglas Shoal itself was restricted, but that area was clearly marked in dark blue on the maps.
A bulk coal carrier caught on Douglas Shoal in the Great Barrier Marine Park may have been following a regular route for industrial ships going in and out of Gladstone, but it could be a timely reminder of inherent environmental danger
The 230-meter Shen Neng 1, carrying 65,000 tonnes of coal and 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, ran aground on the reef about 70km east of the popular holiday resort of Great Keppel Island on Easter Saturday April 3.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was “outrageous that any vessel could find itself ... off course in the Great Barrier Reef”.
“The practical challenge then is to bring to account [those] responsible,” he said.
Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) spokesman Philip Quirk said Shen Neng 1 was attempting to use an authorized—but not favored—route from coastal waters out into the Coral Sea.
He said it ran aground in the approaches to the Capricorn Channel in a restricted part of the marine park where the ship should never have been.
“This vessel was attempting to use a route which we would see as not the best practice route,” he told AAP.
Mr Quirk also said the grounding happened outside the coverage area of a vessel tracking system, which would have alerted authorities about the ship straying off course.