Reef collision course narrowly avoided
THE near-miss of a bulk carrier which drifted perilously close to Osprey Reef off Port Douglas last week has highlighted the urgent need for more than one emergency tugboat.
The Hong Kong carrier ID Identity lost power around 290km northeast of Port Douglas last Friday in deep water and floated over the top of Shark Reef the following day - avoiding a collision with Osprey Reef by sheer luck.
The Federal Government’s emergency response tow vessel Pacific Responder was undergoing maintenance in the Torres Strait, leaving it to a commercial vessel to come to the initial aid of the stricken ID Identity.
Australian Reef Pilots chief executive officer Simon Meyjes said there was no pilot on board the bulk carrier because it is not compulsory unless negotiating the Great Barrier Reef and the emergency services were lucky there was no collision.
“There’s only one significant emergency response station to look after the northern reef area and at the time of the callout it was deployed in the Torres Strait,” he said.
“It took more than two days to get to the site and I don’t think we can afford that sort of delay in an emergency response, the authorities need to have a rethink about resources.
“Using an emergency response vessel for other purposes which doesn’t make it really available should be given more thought - having a multipurpose vehicle is fine to save money but at what potential cost.”
If the ship had been travelling the inner side of the GBR it would have been compulsory to have a pilot on board.
Earlier this year a ship travelling the inner route also lost power but had a pilot who managed the situation.
“Yes, there is increased traffic but simply increasing compulsory pilotage areas within and around the reef would go a long way to preventing these types of incidents,” Mr Meyjes said.
“We can provide a piloting service all the way from Papua New Guinea to any east coast port if customers choose to use our service when it’s not compulsory.
“The average Australian pilot is a guy who has about 30 years navigational experience on the reef and knows it like the back of his hand.”
This latest incident has highlighted the environmental risk posed by an increase in traffic in the Great Barrier Reef, how
ever Mr Meyjes said with proper management the risk is minimal.
“The best way to manage a vessel is inside the GBR, in calm water and shallow enough to put an anchor out,” he said.
“What we’ve seen over the weekend with the ship adrift and the rescue a long way away, it was at the mercy of the weather and it was sheer luck it didn’t end up on the outer reef.
“I couldn’t even contemplate if it washed ashore on Ribbon Reef for example, all the oil on the water would’ve been several hundred tonnes and you couldn’t clean it up there with strong wind warnings - that oil would’ve spread everywhere.
“It would have not been a good outcome for your economy in the area and dive tourism going off the