There’s still considerable talk about the ecological damage caused by the Caledonian Sky cruise ship which smashed a wide area of coral reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia two weeks ago.
The local Minister for Maritime Affairs was quoted as saying that the damage to the ancient coral reefs was "devastating and irreparable," according to an article in Rappler titled Indonesia says captain of cruise ship that destroyed coral reefs may face imprisonment.
The Bahamian-flagged cruise ship ran aground at low tide, although it was equipped with radar and GPS monitoring instruments.
The ship was reportedly carrying 102 passengers and 79 crew members on a 16-day trip from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines.
The ship’s operator, Noble Caledonia, was operating the vessel under a long term charter from Salen Ship Management. Noble Caledonian offered a token apology but concentrated on defending itself and its master who grounded the vessel on the reef, saying: "We are one of the leading expedition cruise companies which specializes in expedition tours to remote locations such as this, in addition to which we take protection of the environment very seriously indeed. The Master on duty at the time is one of the world’s leading expedition Captains."
The master, Keith Michael Taylor, on paper at least, seems to be an experienced mariner, according to his resume on Linked-In. Before working for Salen Ship Management for the past two years as the captain of the Calendonian Sky, he served as a captain with Orion Expedition Cruises from 2008 to 2014 and, before that, for Windstar Cruises for one year. He also served as a captain for Clipper Cruise Line for eight years and for Spice Island Fleet, Great White Fleet and Windjammer Barefoot Cruises dating back to the early 1990’s.
Newspaper accounts, however, are highly critical of the captain. Some suggest that he did not wait for a report of the damage to his vessel or the reef. Tugs pulled the cruise ship across the reef, further damaging the coral. One newspaper says that Captain Taylor attempted to break free from the reef and made the damage even worse even though he was ordered to stop. He then sailed the ship out of the jurisdiction. One newspaper said that the captain "seems to be content by leaving the matter to the insurance company."
Approximately 17,200 square feet of coral were destroyed in the mishap, although a more recent estimate placed the extent of the damage much higher. Estimates of the damages are in the range of a little over $1 million to over $18 million. But the destruction cannot be easily fixed and the reefs may take over 100 years to regenerate.
One newspaper reported that the local ministry said “the destruction of the Radja Ampat coral reefs, which were developed by nature over hundreds of years, occurred in less than one day. It is simply impossible to restore that part of Radja Ampat. Fish that were normally seen in that particular area are all gone.”
Photographs posted (bottom) after the grounding show rubber dinghies deployed bearing the name of the Swedish management company, Salen Ship (salenship.com).
Captain Taylor committed an environmental crime under Indonesian law; he is subject to imprisonment for recklessly destroying the country’s natural coral resources. But whether he spends even a day in jail seems unlikely. As explained in my recent article The "Trump Effect" – Cruise Industry Reinforces Its Image as an Enemy of the Environment, there are few travel industries which can wreak havoc on rare, bio-diverse marine habitats as effectively as the cruise lines. And there are no cruise lines willing to see their captains face criminal responsibility when they run aground on or drop or drag an anchor over an ancient coral reef.
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Photo credit: Top – Linked-In; Middle – Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs; Bottom – Indonesia Expats