CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government reached a 39.3 million Australian dollar ($29.6 million) settlement with the owners of a Chinese coal carrier to pay for environmental damage caused when the ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef six years ago, the environment minister said Monday.
The government had sued Shenzhen Energy Transport for at least AU$120 million in Australian Federal Court after the fully laden ship Shen Neng1 went off course in April 2010 and grounded on Douglas Shoal, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the town of Rockhampton, among the chain of World Heritage-listed coral reefs.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said Shenzhen Energy Transport has agreed to the out-of-court-settlement after refusing to accept responsibility for restitution for more than six years.
"Our ongoing actions to pursue funds to clean up the pollution sends an unambiguous signal that damage to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is unacceptable and that we will use every available means to pursue ship owners who are negligent in causing damage to the reef," Frydenberg said in a statement.
The crash site was contaminated with hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of paint particles tainted with the highly toxic anti-fouling agent tributyltin.
Tributyltin slows the growth of aquatic organisms on ship hulls, and marine biologists say the particles need to be removed from the 40-hectare (100-acre) crash site to allow the area to recover.
Shenzhen Energy Transport had said in court the reef is already healing and the company should not have to pay for a cleanup that is not needed.
Shenzhen Energy Transport's maritime insurer, London P&I Club, has said the government's estimated costs of fixing the reef were unrealistic.
Frydenberg said the cleanup is likely to begin in mid 2017. Of the total, AU$35 million is to be paid to the government to cover the cost of removing polluted rubble. The remaining AU$4.3 million is to cover government costs incurred in the immediate aftermath of the grounding.
Shenzhen Energy Transport could not be contacted immediately for comment Monday.