A coal-laden ship that ran aground at full speed some 9 miles outside a shipping lane in protected waters was leaking oil on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and in danger of breaking apart, officials said today. Authorities fear an oil spill will damage the world's largest coral reef, which is off northeast Australia and listed as a World Heritage site.
A police boat was standing by to remove the 23 crew if the Chinese Shen Neng 1, which is carrying 1,000 tons of oil and 72,000 tons of coal, broke apart, State Premier Anna Bligh said. Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early today, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss of the oil on board. "At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up," a Queensland maritime official said. "We are still very concerned about the ship."