The captain of a cruise ship could be charged after his boat rammed into a pristine coral reef, Indonesian authorities said Wednesday.
The 297-foot (90.6 meter) MS Caledonian Sky crashed into the reefs at Raja Ampat on March 4, 2017. Raja Ampat is included on the lists of the the world’s most beautiful coral reefs and is often described as a virgin beach paradise.
“The destruction of Raja Ampat coral reefs, which were developed by nature for hundreds of years, was done in less than one day by Caledonian Sky and its captain,” Djoko Hartoyo, of the Information and Law Bureau of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, said in a statement. “It is simply impossible to restore that part of Raja Ampat. Fish that were normally seen in that particular area were all gone.”
Reportedly, almost 140,000 square feet (more than 13,000 square meters) of natural coral reefs were destroyed, Ketut Putra, the vice president of Conservation International Indonesia, said. The ship crashed into one of the best diving areas, as reported.
Noble Caledonia, the cruise company that operates the vessel, apologized for the incident. It said in a statement that the ship went aground, but strangely did not give a reason why.
“We are working with local experts to understand how we can assist with the regeneration of the reef. We value our relationships around the world with local people and we are sorry to have impacted the local community,” the statement said.
The company said it will establish a fund to help the local economy and help pay for repairs.
But the local residents are outraged.
“The damage done to the reef is not only a disaster from an environmental point of view, but also due to the fact that the livelihoods of local communities depend upon healthy reefs,” Doug Meikle, who runs a website supporting the work of the local Papuan community’s tourist accommodation association, reported in a supposed email. “It’s quite remarkable that the ship was so close.”
Ruben Sauyai, the president of the professional divers association in Raja Ampat reported he was about 200 feet away with some divers when the incident happened.
“You could hear it crush the reef,” he said.
Meikle believes there should be a strong case to ban ships like this from the area.
“Quite apart from the risk of accidents, just anchoring such ships does incredible damage to reefs.”
Though insurance could pay for some of the environmental damage, Indonesian authorities said they believe the captain committed a crime and could face prison time if convicted.
“Insurance company may be willing to pay the environmental damage, but it does not absolve criminal side of the case,” authorities said.
The company described the master on duty at the time of the crash as “one of the world’s leading expedition captains” and said he had many years of experience.