Australian Federal Police (AFP) have been called in to investigate how a bulk coal ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef off central Queensland.
Salvage crews are today expected to start pumping fuel oil off the Shen Neng 1, which ploughed at full speed into Douglas Shoal, east of Rockhampton, last Saturday.
The Chinese-registered ship ruptured a fuel tank and damaged the engine room when it ran aground.
Several tonnes of fuel oil leaked into the ocean but that has been dispersed with chemicals.
About 975 tonnes of oil remain on the stranded ship.
Two response boats are at the site and have inflated booms around the coal carrier to minimise any further spillage.
Around 250 people are on standby in case oil reaches the coast but that is now considered unlikely.
The AFP has been asked to consider mounting a criminal investigation into how the ship ran aground but has not yet confirmed whether it will investigate.
Maritime authorities are already looking into the incident.
Authorities will today start pumping the remaining oil supply off the ship ahead of attempts to refloat the vessel.
Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) spokesman Patrick Quirk says recovery ships are in place to prepare for the pumping operation.
“The bunker barge Larcom and our salvage response vessels managing the boom are in position,” he said.
“The processes are taking place to get the oil moving but as yet they are not pumping any oil.
“It is an involved process to connect the pumps and the hoses and our check lists satisfied.
“We’ll start the process when we’re happy that it’s safe to do so.”
Premier Anna Bligh will also fly over the stricken ship today.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, Greens Leader Bob Brown and Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan have already flown over Douglas Shoal this week.
It is still not clear when authorities will try to move the ship off the reef.
RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty says it is looking for volunteers to head to central Queensland should there be a major oil spill.
Mr Beatty says it is only a contingency plan.
“Particularly wildlife carers or people who have experience with wildlife is to go on to our website and register on there – obviously with contact numbers, details of experience and availability – and then we can mobilise those people basically instantly to go up and assist if needed,” he said.
Meanwhile, a maritime law expert doubts the Queensland Government will recover the full cost of salvaging the ship.
The State Government says the ship’s owners will be forced to pay for the full clean-up and salvage costs.
But maritime expert Professor Nick Gaskell has told AM that there is a cap on the amount they will have to pay and there is likely to be a gap between the actual cost and what the owners will have to pay.
“There is a maximum amount calculated according to the size of the ship, and my calculations on the information available to me indicate that the maximum sum for this ship will be in the region of $23.5 million,” he said.
“In exchange for having a no-fault liability, the ship owners are entitled to have a ceiling, a maximum amount of damages for which they’re liable.”