The proposed massive increase in mining and coal ports on the Queensland coast adjacent to the World Heritage protected Great Barrier Reef is predicted to see an increase of 5 times in the number of shipping transits.
This increases by 5 times the risk of oil spills, reef damage, groundings and boat strikes on marine mammals like dolphins, whales and dugongs.
From 14,000 to 80,000 transits a year
Shipping routes through the Great Barrier Reef are often narrow and dangerous. Indeed one popular route past Hayman Island is only a kilometre wide at one point.
Yet little consideration has been given to the risk to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park of the projected massive increase in shipping as a result of mining – especially coal mining – in Queensland and the building of new coal ports on the Queensland coast.
Five times the increase in shipping means an increased probability of accidents of 500 per cent.
From 1985 to 2001, 11 collisions and 20 groundings occurred along the Great Barrier Reef shipping route, with human error identified as the leading cause of shipping accidents.1 ( Australian Maritime Safety Authority (2002).
Extrapolating these figures suggest that the expansion in shipping could well see more than 50 collisions and 100 groundings in a 15 year period potentially within the World Heritage protected area.
Australian Maritime Safety staffing at present is not insufficient to manage such increases in shipping.
Grounding of the Shen Neng 1
The most dramatic accident on the Great Barrier Reef involved the bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1, which ran aground in April 2010.
The grounding resulted in damage to 400,000 sqm of the Great Barrier Reef. Oil dispersant used to clean up the oil like spread to reef islands up to 25 km away.
How many more accidents willdo there need to be before action is taken to properly protect one of Australia’s greatest natural assets?
Coal port expansion could see 24 times as many shipping transits from Abbot Point
At the maximum capacity proposed of 240 Mtpa for the four T Terminals proposed at Abbot Point north of Bowen in north Queensland, could mean an increase in shipping transits ranging from 600 to 3,200 each year depending on whether the ship sizes are the 60,000 to 80,000 tonne Panamax or 400,000 tonne Chinamax sized ships.
Coal shipping has a deeper draft and requires more dredging than other cargo ships, and the larger ships will require even deeper dredging.
At present – with one operational port - shipping transits from Abbot Point total around 170 a year using the smaller Panamax class sized vessels.
If the proposed mines and expansions proceed it would mean an increase of 19 times the current number of shipping movements.
If the 60 Mtpa AP-X terminals are also built there could be 4,000 Panamax transits from Abbot Point, 24 times the current number.
Obviously there would be pressure to introduce the Chinamax ships and that would reduce shipping transit numbers but it would also mean substantially more dredging and dumping and larger environmental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.
Either way, the risk from increased shipping is enormous in terms of the danger of accidents that cause damage to the reef and its environs.
And if attempts are made to reduce the number of shipping transits by using bigger ships (such as the Chinamax) then significantly more dredging and dumping of the sea bed will need to take place to accommodate them, all of which causes increased damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
4,000 more shipping transits out of Hay Point alone?
Right now, proposals to build 180 Mtpa coal export capacity by developing If the 180Mtpa of coal export capacity is built by developing two 90 Mtpa coal terminals at Dudgeon Point in the Hay Point port lands south of Mackay in northern Central Queensland total export capacity would be 309Mtpa.
That represents 4,120 shipping transits per annum of Panamax sized ships or 1,803 Chinamax sized ships.
So Overall, if both Abbot Point and Dudgeon point port expansions are permitted to go ahead, port capacity of a maximum of 8,120 Panamax or 2,420 Chinamax shipments of coal each year through the Great Barrier Reef is being proposed from what would be the two largest coal ports in the world.
What future is there for our beautiful Reef and its inhabitants if these ports are permitted to go ahead?