A British-owned cruise ship ran aground in shallow waters off the Indonesian coast and smashed into protected coral reefs at a local island chain.

The 295-feet MS Caledonian Sky damaged an estimated 17,222 square feet of coral reefs in Raja Ampat in West Papua province last March 4 when it ran across the area at low tide, according to an evaluation team.

Smashing Into Precious Reefs

The ship, caught in low tide despite its GPS and radar instruments on board, was towed away by a tug boat while still at such low tide, which is believed to have caused more damage.

“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 worse,” said Ricardo Tapilatu, head of University of Papua’s Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources and member of the team.

The team said that ship owner Noble Caledonia has to pay $1.28 million to $1.92 million in compensation after the ecosystem of the marine sanctuary had been affected.

“If the company doesn’t want to pay compensation, the local government will take the case to court,” Tapilatu added in a Jakarta Post report.

Caledonian Sky, weighing 4,290 tons, was carrying 102 passengers as well as 79 crew on a 16-night trip from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines. It just finished a bird-watching trip to Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat — a popular diving site and one of the richest marine biodiversity on Earth — when the incident happened.

In a statement, the London-based small-cruise firm dubbed the incident as “unfortunate” and expressed its full cooperation with the authorities.

"Noble Caledonia is firmly committed to protection of the environment, which is why it is imperative that the reasons for it are fully investigated, understood and any lessons learned incorporated in operating procedures,” part of the statement read.

Prospects For Damaged Ecosystem

Indonesian locals relying on dive tourism deemed it a sad and concerning time.

“The damage is huge and acute. It could take 10 to 100 years to repair it,” professional diving instructor Ruben Sauyai told BBC, adding that most residents work in the tourism industry while the rest are fishermen or farmers.

Laura Resti of Raja Ampat’s homestay association said what occurred was “counterproductive” for their local tourism aspirations, as coral reefs mainly draw in the crowds visiting the national park.

Videos taken by different divers revealed that the reefs had been eroded by the ship’s hull, leaving massive bleached scratches.

Tapilatu said in a separate Jakarta Post report that the kinds of reefs destroyed by the ship include Genus Porites, Acropora, Poicilopora, and Tubastrea, all taking decades in order to be restored. Conservation International Indonesia (CII) spokesperson Albert Nebore also said that the ship allegedly entered the territory without consulting local guides.

“The skipper forced the ship to enter the area, which was not open to cruise ships,” he said.

The world’s reef systems have been hounded by recent severe bleaching events, including the one that destroyed 400 miles of the Great Barrier Reef’s northern regions in 2016. The famed reef is showing accumulated heat stress compared to the same period last year, before it saw the worst bleaching event that ravaged 25 percent of all coral and threatened its world heritage status.

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