A British-owned cruise ship ran aground last week, onto a coral reef in Raja Ampat, an Indonesian island chain renowned for some of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems.
The Bahamian-flagged, 90-meter Caledonian Sky, operated by Noble Caledonia, ran aground in an uncharted shoal in West Papua province. The ship had just finished a bird-watching trip on Waigeo island. A spokesman for the company said the incident was “unfortunate” and added:
“The relevant authorities were immediately informed, and divers inspected the underwater part of the hull. The inspection revealed that the hull was undamaged and remained intact. The ship did not take on water, nor was any pollution reported as a result of the grounding.”
An official evaluation team said that the ship had been caught in low tide despite having tools such as GPS and radar to avoid such an occurrence. Ricardo Tapilatu, who is head of the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources at the University of Papua, a member of the evaluation team, said:
“A tugboat from Sorong city was deployed to help refloat the cruise ship, which is something that shouldn’t have happened because it damaged the reef even worse. They should’ve waited for high tide.”
The 4,290 ton ship damaged about 1,600 square meters of coral, at a diving site called Crossover Reef. The Caledonia Sky was had 102 passengers and 79 crew aboard for a 16-day trip from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines.
The evaluation team said the incident has resulted in destruction of the ecoystem’s structural habitat, and a reduction or loss of diversity of several coral genera, including acropora, porites, montipora and stylophora. Tapilatu added:
“This is what we found during our investigation into the site. We are currently finishing the report and will submit our recommendations to the district office next week.”
A Facebook post by local homestay operator Stay Raja Ampat said: “How can this happen? Was a 12-year-old at the wheel? Anchor damage from ships like these is bad enough, but actually grounding a ship on a reef takes it to a whole new level.”
Given the high level of biodiversity in the area, its popularity as a dive site, and its status as a national park, the evaluation team will recommend the company pay compensation of $800-$1,200 per square meter, expected to reach a total of $1.28m-$1.92m.
“If the ship’s owner disagrees with the claim, then typically the government will take it to court,” Tapilatu said.
If the government and the company are able to reach an agreement, it is expected to take one to two years for the money to reach the district administration.
Tapilatu said the money would be used to revive the reef, and to prevent similar incidents by setting mooring buoys. He said the revival of the reef could take a decade.
“The government has had talks about compensation with the ship company, and I’m optimistic that this won’t go to court. Unfortunately, there will not be any moves for coral revival until we get the money,” he added.