Can’t Take A Leak But A Coal Transfer Is OK

14 May 2010

On Tuesday morning, stricken Chinese coal bulker, Shen Neng 1, arrived in the pristine wateres of Hervey Bay. The ship anchored in the great sandy marine park, a whale sanctuary on the edge of world heritage listed Fraser Island.

On 5 April, Shen Neng 1 struck the Great Barrier Reef on Douglas Shoal, where it sat damaging the reef for three days.

Hervey Bay is a sleepy retirement town and a tourist launch pad to Fraser Island. It has a nice, shallow bay – the sort of place you’d want to take a 225m long coal bulker if you thought it might sink. It’s protected from the southern weather patterns and ocean swell, wide enough to be out of sight of tourists, and cheap-and-easy to refloat if the bulker did sink. Also, most of the ship would still sit out of the water if it was on the bottom.

But, this idyllic spot for an ailing coal ship is also within the Great Sandy Marine Park and on the edge of World Heritage Listed Fraser Island. It’s the only breeding ground for loggerhead turtles in the southern hemisphere, home to eight species of whales and a birthing ground for humpback whales. It’s also home to dugongs, dolphins and unique seagrass habitats found nowhere else in the world.


The locals depend on this bay for their livelihoods – tourism, whale watching, fishing and all the businesses that rely on tourists passing through. All these activities are watched and restricted so they have limited, if any, impact on the marine park. For months now, a local watersports operator and café owner has been navigating the lengthy process with Maritime Safety Queensland to get two more kayaks for tourists to use.

And the Shen Neng 1? The local community had just one day’s notice that the coal bulker was coming to their marine park.

While the Shen Neng 1 is being unloaded, local fishermen are not allowed to pee in the water. The smallest amount of ballast water may bring a plague of starfish decimating local marine life (it’s certainly happened before in Tasmania and Port Phillip Bay).

Lots of these people fought for 10 years or more to get the marine park protected, only to see that it may have been for nothing. If all goes well, if no coal or fuel oil or foreign ballast water is released into the bay, it signs a precedent that this is the place for the goverrnment to go with sinking coal ships. If things go bad and marine pollutants do spill into the bay, well you can only imagine …