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Resource Firms Defend Shipping Through Great Barrier Reef

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

28 May 2012

The Chief Executive of Australia's Queensland Resources Council Michael Roche has welcomed new, independent research that aims to accurately assess the impact of increased shipping through the Great Barrier Reef, in direct response to environmental concerns.

The study, by leading maritime experts, is aimed at examining the full range of environmental and safety issues related to shipping in the Great Barrier Reef, to help identify risks and understand current and future ship management arrangements.

Roche said that earlier forecasts on the matter were "disappointing", and argued that they had "deliberately been exaggerated as part of a coordinated anti-coal campaign". He highlighted data showing that shipping through the Reef had been growing steadily for decades, while incidents have fallen dramatically.

"With the advent of mandatory reporting systems, groundings have fallen from 1.0 per year to 0.16 since 1996," Roche said, citing the early findings of the study. "In the last three years there has been one major incident – so that’s one incident for every 15,000 ships travelling through the reef."

"But even that is too high," he admitted, adding: "This study is examining ways we can further improve our performance and that of our shipping partners."

Drawing from the research, Roche said that presently 4,800 large commercial vessels travel through the ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Of these, about 2,500 (52%) are coal ships with the remainder carrying other bulk commodities, general cargo and tourists. By 2020, annual movements by large commercial vessels are forecast to reach 7,500, with coal ships accounting for 4,000 to 4,500 (53-60%).

"Based on traffic movements over the past 10 years, proposed resources sector growth in Queensland and expected port capacities and ship numbers by port, there is simply no foundation to claims of up to 10,000 coal ships moving through the Great Barrier Reef by 2020," he said.

"These are the facts of the matter and should form the basis for formulating plans to manage shipping risks to the reef, regardless of whether the vessels involved are exporting commodities or importing essential cargo for Queensland communities," Roche said.

The preparation of an impact assessment by coal companies and port operators for state and federal government review recognizes the global status of the Great Barrier Reef, Roche explained.

"Resource companies and the Queensland ports through which they operate recognize the Great Barrier Reef is important to all Australians and the global community, and it is in their interests from both moral and business perspectives to ensure the reef’s ongoing protection," Roche said.

The report is expected to be released publicly in full in mid-2012.

TAGS: marine

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