Coal ship captain slapped with $25,000 fine for coral reef oil spill

The ship master of a Chinese coal ship has been hit with a $25,000 fine for triggering a three-tonne oil spill after crashing into part of the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast.

ABC News reports that Jichang Wang, ship master of the Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1, has been ordered by the Gladstone's Magistrates Court to pay $25,000 after pleading guilty to causing damage to a marine park.

The ship's second-in-charge, Xuegang Wang, received a three month prison sentence in relation to the incident last month. Wang was steering the Shen Neng 1 at the time of its collision with the coral reef.

Local politicians have hailed the decision, saying it sends a clear message to those who would flout Australia's environmental protection laws.

Federal minister Ken O'Dwod, the member for Flynn, says the "message is there and if you go to sleep on watch or whatever you do on watch it's a critical part of our Barrier Reef and it's got to be treated with respect."

Others have criticized the court's punishment as being too lenient and of insufficient severity to serve as a deterrent.

Ian Herbert of the Capricorn Conservation Council says that the fine is far from commensurate with the cost of clean-up, noting that it was a "huge exercise by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority just to assess the damage in that area."

"This damage is going to cost many, many millions of dollars for cleaning up the toxic paint that's been scraped onto the reef and ongoing monitoring for many years."