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Stranded ship 'time bomb' to Great Barrier Reef

SYDNEY -- A stranded Chinese coal ship leaking oil onto Australia's Great Barrier Reef is an environmental time bomb with the potential to devastate large protected areas of the reef, activists said on Monday.

The ship was a “ticking environmental time bomb,” Gilly Llewellyn, director of conservation for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Australia, told Reuters.

She said this was the third major international incident involving its owners in four years.

Australian government officials say the stricken Shen Neng I belongs to the Shenzhen Energy Group, a subsidiary of China's state-owned China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, better known by its acronym COSCO.

In 2007, COSCO was linked to a major oil spill in San Francisco bay, while last year it was tied to another in Norway, both of which damaged environmentally sensitive areas.

“We are seeing a concerning pattern potentially associated with this company,” Llewellyn told Reuters.

COSCO officials in Australia could not be contacted for comment on Monday.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along Australia's northeastern coast and is the only living structure on Earth visible from space. It is the world's largest coral reef and a major tourist draw.

As salvagers struggled on Monday to stop the ship breaking up and spilling hundreds of tons of oil and thousands of tons of coal, environmentalists told Reuters tighter controls on shipping were needed to protect the reef as Australia's energy industry expands.

Ship Needs Help

Although only a small amount of the 975 tons of fuel oil on board has so far leaked, Australian officials have warned the ship is unable to move off the shoal unaided, as its engine and rudder were damaged.

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Stranded ship 'time bomb' to Great Barrier Reef
A ribbon of oil snakes away on the water surface from the Chinese-registered 230-meter-long bulk coal carrier Shen Neng 1, off the coast of Rockhampton, Australia, yesterday. (AP)

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