This article was updated on Wednesday (15/03) at 6:10 p.m.
Jakarta. The central government has established a joint task force team to investigate the damage to coral reefs in Raja Ampat, West Papua, after they were smashed into by a British cruise ship earlier this month.
The team will consist of representatives from the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, along with officials from the Attorney General’s Office, National Police and the local government of Raja Ampat.
The task force will calculate the environmental damage caused by the ship as well as provide mutual legal assistance for locals. The task force will also work toward ensuring that the owners of the 4,290-tonne Caledonian Sky – the cruise ship at fault – pay for the damages.
A preliminary investigation estimated that more than 1,600 square meters of coral reef were destroyed in the incident, after the cruise ship ran aground in Raja Ampat's waters during low tide on March 4.
Efforts to remove the cruise ship from the area using a tug boat were unsuccessful, creating even more damage to the corals as the ship was being towed.
According to the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, the damaged corals have grown without incident for hundreds of years and will likely be impossible to grow back. The ministry claimed the damage will likely result in the disappearance of fish from the site, a major loss for local fisheries.
"We have a team of experts on the ground to calculate environmental losses, especially to the coral reef and biodiversity in the area, as it is a whole ecosystem that has been damaged here," Arif Havas Oegroseno, the Coordinating Ministry’s deputy for maritime sovereignty said on Tuesday.
He added that the loss to fisheries and tourism will also be calculated as it directly impacts the welfare of local residents.
"Tourism contributes Rp 12 billion [$900,000] to Raja Ampat, so we cannot take this issue lightly."
Arif stated the task force will return to Jakarta from Raja Ampat on Wednesday after a team was initially dispatched to assess the investigation findings on Saturday.
Brahmantya Satyamurti, director of sea management at the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry, said the team will determine the valuation of each broken reef.
"Technically, we have to know why the ship was allowed to cruise to shallow waters and how it was pulled out. We need to fully asses the damage [the ship] caused and the damage valuation," Brahmantya said.
The British company who owns the Caledonian Sky described the incident as "unfortunate" and said it is "cooperating fully with the relevant authorities." The vessel itself was minimally damaged and has already set sail after its operators were questioned by investigators.
An official evaluation team member Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the research center for pacific marine resources at the University of Papua, told environmental science and conservation news and information website Mongabay, that the ship was equipped with GPS and radar navigation systems.
The Caledonian Sky was traveling for 16 nights from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines with 181 people on board, consisting of passengers and crew members. At least 1,600 square meters of the coral reef, a diving site known as the Crossover Reef, was damaged by the cruise ship, Mongabay reported.
The damage to Raja Ampat, a Unesco World Heritage Site, drew international outrage. Under the law on environmental conservation and management, the cruise ship operator, Noble Caledonia, might face imprisonment for the ship's damage to the coral reef.
Ricardo said the team will recommend the company pay between $800-$1,200 of compensation per square meter of corals damaged, resulting in a total of $1.28-$1.92 million, Mongabay reported.
"If the ship’s owners disagree with the claim, we can expect the government to take the case to court," Ricardo said, as quoted by Mongabay.
But if the government and the ship's owners do reach an agreement, it will likely take one year or more for the provincial government to receive the compensation.
"The government has had compensation talks with the ship's company, and I am optimistic that this won’t go to court. Unfortunately, there will not be any move for coral revival until we get the money," Ricardo said, as quoted by the environmental news website.
Correction: the previous version of this article did not reference citations and reporting by Mongabay. The Jakarta Globe apologizes for this error.