World

Cruise ship crashes into coral reefs in Indonesia

SORONGA: British-owned cruise ship smashed into coral reefs, damaging a remote corner of Indonesia that is known as one of the world's most biodiverse marine habitats, researchers and officials said yesterday.

Raja Ampat in eastern Indonesia has long been a top attraction for travellers, home to islands surrounded by a kaleidoscope of coral and fish.

On March 4, the Caledonian Sky slammed into reefs at low tide around Kri, one of hundreds of small islands in Raja Ampat.

The boat, which had 102 passengers and 79 crew, became grounded on the reefs and had to be refloated by a tug boat.

The accident has damaged about 13,500 sq m of coral reefs, which could cost up to US$16.2 million (S$23 million) to restore, said Mr Ricardo Tapilatu, a marine researcher who headed a team assessing the impact.

Mr Victor Nikijuluw, marine programme director at environmental group Conservation International Indonesia, said: "Even when (the reefs) grow back, they will not be as pristine as they were before."

Search and rescue agency officials said they had intended to evacuate the passengers.

"However, when we spoke with the captain of the ship and one passenger, they refused to be evacuated and asked instead for a tug boat," local agency chief Prasetyo Budiarto told a television station.

The tug took many attempts to refloat the vessel, causing even more damage to the reefs.

Ship operatorNoble Caledonia said in a statement to the Jakarta Post that it is "committed to the protection of the environment and deeply regrets any damage caused to the reefs".

The Indonesian government said it was assessing the damage and will seek compensation from the operator. - AFP

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