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Coal carrier reef damage bill settled

AAP logoAAP 19/09/2016 Jamie McKinnell

The federal government has reached a $39.3 million out of court settlement with the owners of a Chinese coal carrier that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010.

Shenzhen Energy Transport Co Ltd and its insurer have for six years refused to accept responsibility for restitution after the 225-metre long, fully laden Shen Neng 1 ran aground 100km east of Rockhampton at Douglas Shoal.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the $39.3 million would allow the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to remove toxic anti-fouling paint and rubble and restore the natural ecological processes of the reef.

"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," he said.

The anti-paint at Douglas Shoal contained a highly-toxic component known as TBT, which is now banned.

Mr Frydenberg estimated the clean-up operation would begin in mid-2017.

The payout is made up of $35 million to remove polluted rubble and another $4.3 million to cover the costs incurred by the government in the immediate aftermath of the grounding.

The government was seeking at least $120 million, while the carrier's owner argued the reef was self-healing and the company shouldn't have to pay the bill.

Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Dr Russell Reichelt said fixing the damage to the reef was his highest priority in pursuing the claim.

But he said it was unsatisfactory that it took more than six years to reach a resolution.

"Our investigation also led to the ships' master and first officer being convicted of criminal negligence in causing the accident, and resulted in the first officer serving a jail term," Dr Reichelt said.

"Damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by such negligence should be made good by the ship owner or their insurer and not left to the Australian taxpayers to fund repairs."

Greenpeace Australia spokeswoman Shani Tager said the settlement was "nowhere near sufficient" and the government had given up on pursing about $100 million.

"It doesn't send a very good signal about how seriously they take damage to the Great Barrier Reef," she told AAP.

But Ms Tager welcomed the operator's acceptance of responsibility.

"Hopefully that's a message that's been heard throughout the shipping industry and throughout the coal industry."

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