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Shen Neng 1 seaman to serve three months in jail

GUILTY: Xuegang Wang at court yesterday.
GUILTY: Xuegang Wang at court yesterday. Rae Wilson

THE Chinese seaman in charge of a bulk carrier that caused extensive damage to a treasured World Heritage area off the Central Queensland coast must serve three months behind bars.

Xuegang Wang, 46, failed to chart Shen Neng 1's position every 15 minutes once he took watch aboard the 225m vessel after it had been loaded with coal at the Gladstone port at Easter 2010.

The ship caused damage to a 400,000sqm section of the Great Barrier Reef, the equivalent of 58 football fields, after it ploughed into Douglas Shoal about 120km from Rockhampton.

Not only was there damage caused through physical impact but the collision ruptured toxic paint designed to kill marine life on the ship's hull and spilled three to four tonnes of heavy oil into the ocean.

Using 5000L of oil dispersant resulted in oil spreading to reef islands 25km away.

Wang, who has lost his marine licence, was sentenced to 18 months jail when he pleaded guilty in Brisbane District Court yesterday to being in control of the vessel when it damaged the marine park.

He will be released after three months on a two-year good behaviour bond.

Judge Leanne Clare said there was a failure in navigation but his actions were not momentary inattention, rather "gross negligence" on a treasured marine park.

"It was the largest incident of damage caused by shipping to the marine park to date," she said.

"Mr Wang knew he was navigating a passage through the Great Barrier Reef.

"He must have known there were reefs in the area that posed a hazard for shipping.

"He had the necessary navigational aids and the experience to use them.

"The need to change direction during his shift would have been obvious from the start.

"Yet he failed to monitor the position of the boat as required.

"It seems his casualness came from a misplaced confidence in an alarm system that he had not checked.

"Mr Wang appears to be a good man who had a very bad day."

Crown prosecutor Glen Rice had told the court any Sunday afternoon fisherman on Moreton Bay with a GPS could have turned the ship to avoid colliding with the reef but Wang had failed his duty to check the ship's position.

"One of the requirements of safe navigation is to fix the position of the vessel on a regular basis and note it on the chart," he said.

"It was not done between 4pm and 5pm and that was one of the contributors to the fact the vessel ran aground."

Defence barrister Jeff Hunter said his client took over after the ship had already changed course and he had wrongly relied on the GPS.

"He mentally calculated when he thought the vessel should turn and he miscalculated," he said. "(He accepts) if he had been fixing his position more frequently he would have known ..."

Mr Hunter said his client had stayed on the ship for days after the grounding to help mitigate the damage and refloat the ship from the reef.

He said Wang had suffered significant informal punishment through financial hardship and loss of social standing in China.

HOW IT HAPPENED

SHE arrived at the Port of Gladstone on April 2, 2010.

It took 24 hours to load her full with coal, making her sit low in the water.

A marine pilot then guided Shen Neng 1 to a Fairway Buoy, then left about 1.10pm on April 3.

The pilot had viewed a shipping chart marking a safe passage to exit the Great Barrier Reef between North West Island and Douglas Shoal.

About 3.30pm, the crew decided to change the angle of the route.

The GPS, which had the original co-ordinates entered, was alarmed but it was silenced.

Xuegang Wang took control of the vessel at 4pm as it was heading full steam for Douglas Shoal.

At 225 metres long, laden with coal, Shen Neng had limited manoeuvrability in the event of a mishap. 

Wang knew the ship had to turn but the chart he was using did not extend to Douglas Shoal so he did not know to look out for it.

The shoal was underwater, there were no waves crashing over it and the lighting was poor so he did not see the shallow water ahead.

Wang was supposed to fix his position on the shipping chart every 15 minutes but failed to do so.

He intended to reply on a GPS alarm to notify him, not knowing it had been cancelled because it was not set with the amended journey.

Wang had miscalculated the time it would take to reach the turning point and found himself 10km out of the shipping zone in a restricted area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

It was only when he went to fix his position at 5pm and got the correct chart that Wang realised the hazard ahead.

He should have turned 20 minutes earlier.

Wang reacted as soon as he realised the danger but it was too late.

The ship hit the sea floor at 5.03pm at the same time Wang had ordered a hard turn.

Shen Neng's momentum slowed but continued through the reef until it struck hard at 5.10pm.

For two days the tide struck the wounded vessel across the reef until she finally came to rest.

But she had scraped and bobbed through 14 hectares of protected marine park.

Those impacts, together with toxic paints and oil released into water, caused immeasurable damage.  

Topics:  gladstone great barrier reef keppel island prison shen neng world heritage



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