In 1995, however, when the bulk carrier Iron Baron ran aground on Hebe Reef in Northern Tasmania releasing approximately 350 tonnes of fuel oil, the main impact appeared to be from the grounding itself rather than the oil. Edgar and Barrett (2000) found that physical abrasion from the ship’s hull during grounding caused the complete destruction of the subtidal reef community over an area of about 3400 m2, whereas other areas affected only by the oil showed no significant changes. Post impact monitoring showed that plant and invertebrate communities in the grounding area had still not reached pre-disturbance levels after two years, apparently because wave disturbance was hindering reestablishment of large macroalgae over part of the abrasion zone where the reef substrata had been converted to unstable rubble (Edgar and Barrett 2000).


On November 2000, the 184 m Malaysian cargo ship Bunga Teratai Satu ran aground on Sudbury Reef within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. The ship was re-floated three days prior to the annual mass spawning of corals. Fortunately none of the ships cargo of fungicides, pesticides, glycerol and polystyrene beads was lost, nor was any fuel. However, the reef sustained extensive structural damage. The impact of the collision caused the reef matrix to shatter and large amounts of coral rubble were generated. During both the initial grounding and subsequent refloating anti-fouling paint was scraped from the ship’s hull. Subsequent analysis revealed that tributyltin (TBT), and copper and zinc, in rubble/sediment samples was dispersed up to 250 m from the grounding (GBRMPA 2001, in Negri et al. 2002).


To assess the potential impact of these chemicals on coral larvae, experiments were set up to mimic the concentrations found at the impacted site. At these levels, significant inhibition of larval settlement and metamorphosis occurred. These results indicate that the contamination of sediments by anti-fouling paint at Sudbury Reef has the potential to significantly reduce coral recruitment in the immediate vicinity of the site and that this contamination may threaten the recovery of the resident coral community unless the paint is removed (Negri and Heyward 2000).


In the case of the Bunga Teratai Satu, the ship owners were fined $400 000, after pleading guilty to causing serious environmental harm under the Queensland Environmental Protection Act. This was the heaviest fine ever imposed under Queensland environment protection laws. Similar charges against the captain and first mate were dropped. The company had previously agreed to pay clean-up costs of $1 million.


On 6 November, 2000 the Commonwealth Transport Minister ordered a review of measures to promote ship safety and pollution prevention in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. A steering committee presented an interim report on 15 December. A final report, incorporating a public consultation phase, is due by the end of June 2001. On 15 November, 2000, the Government announced that it would fast track the introduction of a new shore to ship tracking system by mid 2001. The system would mean that licensed coastal pilots would carry portable transponders enabling real-time monitoring of the ship's position while it was under the control of a pilot. However, while certain areas of the GBR require a pilot others do not, and in fact the pilot had just left the Bunga Teratai Satu prior to its grounding.

Copyright © Environment Australia, 2002
Department of Environment and Heritage