The Great Barrier Reef off Queensland's northern coast came within a few metres of disaster on May 19 when a broken-down bulk sugar carrier drifted just over Shark Reef, north-east of Cooktown.
The 26,000-tonne ID Integrity was blown off course after its engines broke down. Crew dumped ballast to allow the vessel to pass over the reef, until tugs could reach the ship.
Any damage to the ship could have meant a serious oil spill, possibly worse than during the holing of the Pacific Adventurer in 2009, which caused huge damage to Moreton Bay and other regions north of Brisbane.
Environmentalists have called for a review of reef shipping procedures, and for the federal government to place a moratorium on Queensland's proposed new port development.
World Wildlife Fund-Australia spokesperson and marine scientist Richard Leck told the May 21 Courier-Mail: “We get a couple of incidents a year on the inner route [through the reef], but now this has happened on the outer route. It's an indictment on our management. Neither route seems safe.”
The May 23 Courier-Mail said: “A study conducted for an impact assessment on north Queensland's proposed Abbot Point coal port expansion says Great Barrier Reef shipping will surge to 7800 voyages by 2020. It says 2500 coal ships currently ply the Reef, but that could reach 4500 in the same period.”
Greenpeace said on May 20 if all proposed coal terminals were built, there would be a “six fold increase in coal shipping transport through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area”.
The Liberal-National Queensland government has given the go-ahead to a $1.45 billion bauxite mine at Weipa on Cape York, which will extend production at the site for a further 40 years and mean additional supply for Gladstone's alumina industry.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the federal government had held up the project “with green tape”, the May 24 Courier-Mail reported.
Federal environment minister Tony Burke wanted to investigate shipping movements in and around the Barrier Reef, including bauxite shipments from Weipa to Gladstone. "A few weeks ago, they were having a go at me for protecting the koalas, now the Queensland government is wanting to get stuck into me for wanting to protect the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.