THE Chinese government-owned shipping company blamed for the world’s largest grounding scar on the Great Barrier Reef says it can only be forced to pay just over $25 million in damages, if found liable for the disaster.

Shenzhen Energy Transport Co says in its defence document filed in the Federal Court in June, that liability for environmental damage caused by the off-course coal carrier is limited by Commonwealth legislation passed 27 years ago, called the “Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims Act”.

“Shenzhen is entitled to avail itself of the limitation of liability provided for in the (Act),” the company states.

The $25 million figure is calculated based on a formula linked to the US dollar determined by the International Monetary Fund based on the size, or “tonnage” of the ship.

Since the Shen Neng 1’s tonnage is 36,575, it equates to $25.8 million on today’s exchange rate with the US dollar.

The Commonwealth government has asked the court to award it $120 million for the clean-up, based on evidence of the spread of toxic paint since the coal ship grounded on April 3, 2010 off the coast of Rockhampton.

EARLIER: A legal stoush between the Federal Government and the Chinese government-owned shipping company blamed for the world’s largest grounding scar on the Great Barrier Reef has begun in the Federal Court today.

Shenzhen Energy Transport Co has asked the court to cap the damages bill at just $23 million, but the Commonwealth has told the court it estimates it will cost $120 million to fix the reef next year.

Shenzhen argues that more damage was caused to the reef due to the government’s delay in remediating the reef after the incident on April 3, 2010.

Shenzen was the registered owner of the “Shen Neng 1” (now called the Jia Yong”) a 225m long Chinese flagged Panamax bulk carrier.

The court was told this morning that two of the witnesses to be called to give evidence during the month-long case will be the captain of the ship, Jichang Wang, and the ship’s second in charge Wang Xuegang.

The ships chief engineer will also give evidence.

Oil spilled during the grounding was cleaned up immediately, but six years after the incident the repair works to fix toxic paint left on the coral when the off-course ship gouged a three-kilometre scar have not begun.

Other witnesses to be called include several marine scientists who will give evidence of the level of damage to the reef, as well as recreational fishermen and charter operators.

The damage to the reef was caused during the grounding and also allegedly in the 12 days before the ship was refloated from the Douglas Shoal, 120km off the coast of Rockhampton - when the ship moved across the shoal.

The ship was 10km outside the shipping lane when it hit the reef, puncturing its fuel tanks and leaking four tonnes of oil into the ocean.

The captain of a ship, Jichang Wang, was fined $25,000 in Gladstone Magistrates Court four years ago and the ship’s second in charge Wang Xuegang was sentenced to three months in jail over the incident.

Source: courier

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