The master of a Chinese coal carrier which sailed into a restricted section of the Great Barrier Reef while en route to Newcastle has been fined $8000.

In handing down his sentence on Tuesday, magistrate Ian Cheetham said Chih-Ming Lu, a senior captain with more than 30 years' experience, had displayed "reckless behaviour".

According to the statement of facts, the 288-metre China Steel Developer left the north Queensland city of Mackay on New Year's Day when it approached a section of reef known as Hydrographer's Passage.

Large ships are prohibited from navigating this section of the reef without a pilot, with the maximum fine totalling $85,000.

As the matter was dealt with in local court this maximum penalty was reduced to $17,000.

The ship travelled 4.88 kilometres into the restricted area without a pilot, the statement of facts said.

The Vessel Traffic Service based in Townsville detected the incursion and an investigation began.

The ship arrived in Newcastle on Saturday morning and was boarded by officers from the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Marine Safety Authority.

Defence barrister Paul Santone said his client had left Mackay under the belief a pilot would be joining him by helicopter before reaching the restricted area.

He said when Lu was notified he had crossed into the area he "responded quickly" by immediately turning around.

Magistrate Cheetham acknowledged Lu ha pleaded guilty "at the first possible opportunity" but said he had shown "reckless behaviour".
He said Lu was aware of his obligations as he had travelled through the passage with a pilot on a number of previous occasions."He says he was uncertain as to where the line was," he said.

"He did not stop the vessel and wait for a pilot but rather proceeded forward. "I take into account that it was reckless behaviour on his behalf because he knew the line existed and he was reckless to when he might cross it."

Source: Newcastle Herald