Indonesia says captain of cruise ship that destroyed coral reefs may face imprisonment

JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) —The government of Indonesia had harsh words for the captain of cruise vessel MV Caledonian Sky, which was responsible for destroying a huge amount of coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Papua.

"The damage by Caledonian Sky which was captained by Keith Michael Taylor was devastating and irreparable," said a statement from Djoko Hartoyo of the Information and Law Bureau of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, released on Tuesday, March 14.

"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. It is simply impossible to restore that part of Raja Ampat. Fish that were normally seen in that particular were all gone."

The statement then went on to suggest that Taylor cared little about the destruction he inflicted. (IN PHOTOS: Extensive coral reef damage caused by British cruise ship)

"Without even bothering to wait for the assessment of the damage towards this environmental heritage of mankind, Captain Keith Michael Taylor set sailed to Bitung and is currently in the Philippines. Captain Keith Michael Taylor seems to be content by leaving the matter to the insurance company," it said.

It then emphasized that Taylor committed a crime under Indonesian Environmental Law No 32/2009, which punishes by imprisonment those who destroy natural resources such as coral reef, peat land, and forest.

"This is a criminal matter. Insurance company may be willing to pay the environmental damage, but it does not absolve criminal side of the case," it said.

It also said that the incident happened because Taylor "appears to consult GPS and radar without taking into account the tides and its surrounding,"

The statement said the government is currently performing a thorough investigation, and asked Caledonian Sky, the insurance company and Captain Taylor to cooperate "for the sake of global environmental concern."

The Indonesian government has since assembled a task force that will work on legal issues, both civil and criminal aspects, including mutual legal assistance and extradition when needed, comprehensive valuation of damages, safety of navigation and other relevant matters, according to the statement. 

'Sorry'

Initial investigations say 1,600 square meters of Raja Ampat's coral reefs, considered among the best in the world, was destroyed by the British cruise ship on Saturday, March 4. The damaged Crossover Reef has been voted among the best diving spots in the world.

The 90-meter-long ship ran aground at low tide after bird watching on Waigeo island. It was on a 16-day trip from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines and was carrying 102 passengers and 79 crew members. 

DESTROYED. About 1,600 square meters of coral reef was damaged by the cruise ship. Photo from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry

DESTROYED. About 1,600 square meters of coral reef was damaged by the cruise ship.

Photo from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry

According to an official evaluation team, the vessel owned by cruise operator Noble Caledonia was trapped in shallow water, despite the vessel's radar and GPS monitoring tool.

On Wednesday, March 15, Noble Caledonia issued an apology on their website for the incident, saying it is "very upset that this incident has led to the damage to this reef." It also said, "we are sorry to have impacted the local community."

The company also defended its captain.

"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," it said.

"He has many years-experience of working on such operations. Noble Caledonia has over 25 years-experience in the provision of this type of tour, which up to the date of this incident, was without incident."

The company also said it would send its own edpedition team to help with reef regeneration and is working with local experts to understand how they can best help. It also said it would work with the Indonesian government "towards a fair and realistic settlement." – Rappler.com