Two weeks ago, a British-owned cruise ship accidentally ran aground in one of Indonesia’s most pristine coral reefs, causing extensive damage. For local people, who rely on dive tourism, it is a sad and worrying time.
“I was born here, I was in tears when I saw this damage,” said Ruben Sauyai.
“The damage is huge and acute. It could take 10 to 100 years to repair it.”
A professional diving instructor, Mr Sauyai, 30, runs a home stay and dive centre on Raja Ampat, a remote and idyllic island chain in the west of Indonesia’s Papua province.
“Some people work as fishermen or farmers, but mostly we work in the tourism sector,” said Mr Sauyai, who started up his dive centre six years ago.
Tens of thousands of people have been to visit the underwater beauty of the area in recent years.
But on 4 March, the 4,290-tonne Caledonian Sky, owned by British company Noble Caledonia, was completing a bird-watching tourism trip on Waigeo Island when it veered slightly off course.
It ran aground during low tide, smashing through the coral reefs.
An early official evaluation last week said the incident had damaged approximately 1,600 sq m of coral in one of the world’s most beautiful reefs.
Videos recorded by various divers show that the reefs had been eroded by the hull, leaving large bleached scratches.
It was an “unfortunate” incident, said Noble Caledonia, adding that they were “firmly committed to protection of the environment” and fully backed an investigation.
Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources at the University of Papua is part of the official evaluation team.
He said the ship had been caught in low tide despite being equipped with GPS and radar instruments.
“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 more,” Mr Tapilatu told environmental news site Mongabay. “They should have waited for high tide” to refloat the vessel.
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He believes that given the area’s reputation – and the fact that it’s a national park – the company should pay $1.28m-$1.92m in compensation.
The incident has not only angered local people but also social media users in Indonesia.
“This is unacceptable! Do they know how long it takes for corals to form? Have you seen the damage?” said one Facebook user, Feby Riani.
“This is Raja Ampat… one of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs!”
An online petition has been launched demanding that Noble Caledonia doesn’t just give financial compensation but is also present to repair the destruction.
The ship has since been refloated and the company said that based on the inspection “the hull was undamaged and remained intact”.
The ship itself “did not take on water, nor was any pollution reported as a result of the grounding”, said the company.
But Laura Resti, from Raja Ampat’s homestay association, said they were really saddened.
“Coral reefs are the main thing that attracts many tourists here. It is counterproductive for our tourism prospects.”
Mr Sauyai said he has avoided taking tourists to that particular spot since the incident because most of the natural life there had “gone”.
“We have tried to conserve those coral reefs for a long time, and just within few hours they were gone.
“I am so sad and feel ashamed to take tourists there.”