SHIPPING companies are expected to stick to a new route through the Great Barrier Reef to ensure they don’t void their insurance policies.
The two-way shipping route, developed by the Federal Government and the International Maritime Organisation, will be “strongly recommended” but not mandatory for ships passing through the Reef.
The ship routing measure – the world’s longest – aims to reduce the risk of collisions and groundings by encouraging ships to follow well-defined lanes.
It will help ensure ships keep clear of the numerous shoals, reefs and islands that lie close by outside the two-way route.
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The route will also provide greater certainty to small vessels as to where they can expect to encounter large vessels.
It will come into effect on December 1.
Australian Marine Pilots chief executive Simon Meyjes said it was already customary for all international ships to follow two-way routes shown on nautical charts.
“It’s just an additional safety measure to ensure that ships don’t stray outside of safe water and run the risk of grounding on reefs,’’ he said.
“Their insurance would possibly be voided if they strayed outside of the recommended sea lanes on the charts.”
Australian Marine Conservation Society Great Barrier Reef campaign director Felicity Wishart said with ship movements set to grow significantly along Queensland’s coastline, there needed to be extra measures to minimise the risk of ship collisions, spills and groundings.
“There are already 4000 ships crossing the Reef every year, and we’re expecting it will rise to around 7000 by 2020,’’ she said.
“It only takes one of those ships to have an accident to cause irreparable damage to the Reef and the $6 billion tourism industry that relies on it.”
She said better shipping management practices needed to be in place such as compulsory pilotage in Reef waters, a ban on ships with a record of unsafe seamanship, and major improvements to management of anchorage sites.
“No one who saw the dramatic images of the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 (near Great Keppel Island in 2010) can forget what’s at stake when shipping goes wrong on the Reef, damaging coral and marine life in its wake,’’ she said.
“The 3km scar left along the Reef off the coast of Rockhampton has yet to fully recover in some places, four years later.”