Ship perched precariously

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The maritime authorities in Australia are trying to stabilize a coal carrier which has run aground near the Great Barrier Reef. The Chinese-registered ship is balanced precariously and the fear is that it could break up, spilling hundreds of tons of oil into the sea.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Workers are scrambling today to contain a potential environmental disaster on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. That's where a ship carrying coal ran aground and is leaking fuel. Here's what happened. The Chinese registered ship rammed into a part of the reef known as Douglas Shoals late Saturday. About two tons of oil has already spilled and aircraft are spraying chemicals in an effort to break up the spill. The bigger danger is that the vessel could break apart and dump both the rest of its fuel and its cargo of coal on the fragile coral beneath. Patrick Quirk is the General Manager of Maritime Safety, Queensland.

PATRICK QUIRK: The vessel is still rubbing on the reef. It's dancing across the reef. It's crabbing across. It's crabbed across 20, 30 meters. I want to emphasize that we have no evidence at the moment of major oil on the water, but we are preparing for the worst. The bottom line is the ship ended up in a position where she shouldn't have been and it will be the subject of a detailed investigation.

WERMAN: The vessel was some nine miles off course when it hit the reef. Two tugs arrived today to stabilize the ship. Officials say the operation could take weeks.