Australia arrests Chinese crew of grounded coal ship

A general view shows the damage caused by the Chinese 230m-long bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1, about 70 km (43 miles) east of Great Keppel Island April 12, 2010. REUTERS/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority/Handout

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police arrested on Wednesday two senior crew members of a Chinese coal ship which ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, charging them with damaging the reef by failing to sail a correct course.

Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 was fully loaded and traveling at full speed on April 3 when it struck the Douglas Shoal, toward the southern end of the protected reef, which covers 346,000 sq km (133,600 sq miles) off the northeast coast.

The ship, which leaked around two tonnes of heavy fuel oil, was refloated at high tide on Monday night and towed to safe anchorage near Great Keppel Island, a tourist resort, for a damage inspection.

The Australian Federal Police said they had arrested the ship’s master and chief officer-on-watch and that the two Chinese men will appear in court in Queensland state on Thursday.

“Investigations showed that the Shen Neng 1 failed to turn at a waypoint required by the intended course of the ship. A waypoint is a location at which a ship is to alter course,” the federal police said in a statement.

The 44-year-old crewman in charge of the watch faces a maximum three years jail and/or a A$220,000 ($205,000) fine. The 47-year-old master faces a A$55,000 fine.

The stricken ship belongs to the Shenzhen Energy Group Co. Ltd.

The company could face fines and costs of up to A$23 million dollars ($21.3 million) over the incident, according to international maritime law experts. (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Miral Fahmy)