Coral crash sparks Indonesia backlash 

The Raja Ampat islands have some of the world’s most fascinating reefs.

The huge British-registered cruise ship which ripped through one of the world’s most pristine coral reefs in Indonesia has sparked a backlash in the archipelago. 

Island homestay owner Stay Raja Ampat posted on Facebook: “How can this happen? Was a 12-year-old at the wheel? Anchor damage from ships like these is bad enough, but actually grounding a ship on a reef takes it to a whole new level.”

There are now fears for the impact on tourism in the Raja Ampat island chain. 

“I was born here, I was in tears when I saw this damage,” said Ruben Sauyai, 30, who runs a guesthouse and dive school on the remote island chain in Indonesia’s eastern province of West Papua.

“The damage is huge and acute. It could take 10 to 100 years to repair it. Some people work as fishermen or farmers, but mostly we work in the tourism sector,” said Sauyai, who set up his diving business six years ago.

Tens of thousands of tourists have visited the area to dive in recent years. 

But on March 4, the 4,290-tonne, Bahamian-flagged Caledonian Sky, owned by the UK’s Noble Caledonia, was leaving the island of Waigeo after a bird-watching visit. 

The 90-metre vessel drifted marginally off course and smashed through around 1,600 square metres of the giant reef in low tide. 

Divers’ video show huge bleached scratches.

Despite the “unfortunate” incident, Noble Caledonia said it was “firmly committed to protection of the environment” and “cooperating fully with the relevant authorities”. Damage to the vessel was minimal and it set sail after the crew were questioned by investigators.

Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the Pacific marine resources at the University of Papua, is part of the Indonesian probe into the incident at one of the densest marine biodiversity sites in the world. 

Tapilatu said despite global positioning equipment and radar, the vast ship carrying 102 passengers and 79 crew on a 16-night journey from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines, chose to move during low tide. 

“A tugboat from Sorong city was deployed to help refloat the cruise ship, which is something that shouldn’t have happened because it damaged the reef even more,” Tapilatu was quoted saying by the environmental news site Mongabay. “They should have waited for high tide.”

He suggested the firm should pay almost US$2 million in compensation.

“This is unacceptable! Do they know how long it takes for corals to form? Have you seen the damage?” posted Feby Riani on Facebook. 

“This is Raja Ampat… one of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs!”

An online petition is demanding that Noble Caledonia is present to repair the destruction, in addition to paying compensation. 

Picture credit: Flickr