The 4,200-ton Caledonian Sky slammed into the reefs at low tide around Kri, one of hundreds of small islands in Raja Ampat, earlier this month after taking the tourists aboard on a bird-watching expedition.
Raja Ampat in eastern Indonesia has long been a top attraction for intrepid travellers and avid divers, home to palm-fringed islands surrounded by an underwater kaleidoscope of coral and fish.
The boat, which was carrying 102 passengers and 79 crew, became grounded on the reefs and had to be refloated by a tug boat before continuing on its journey.
The accident has damaged an estimated 13,500 square metres (145,000 square feet) of coral reef which could cost up to $16.2 million to restore, according to Ricardo Tapilatu, a marine researcher from the University of Papua who headed a team assessing the impact.
There has been outrage in the local tourism industry which relies on Raja Ampat’s natural wonders for its survival.
– ‘Very big loss’ –
“How can this happen? Was a 12-year-old at the wheel?” Stay Raja Ampat, a website that links tourists up with homestays, said on its Facebook page.
“Anchor damage from ships like these is bad enough, but actually grounding a ship on a reef takes it to a whole new level.”
Environmental group Conservation International said that the Bahamas-flagged ship had gone into an area that it should not have entered due to the unique coral reefs.
“This is a very, very big loss for us,” Victor Nikijuluw, the marine programme director at Conservation International Indonesia, told AFP.
“Even when (the reefs) grow back, they will not be as pristine as they were before,” he added.
“However when we reached the site and spoke with the captain of the ship as well as one passenger, they refused to be evacuated and asked instead for a tug boat,” local agency chief Prasetyo Budiarto told a television station.
But the tug took numerous attempts to refloat the massive vessel, causing even more damage to the reef.
The ship’s operator, Britain-based tour company Noble Caledonia, said in a statement they were working with the Indonesian government to reach an agreement in relation to any damage caused.
“The company is firmly committed to the protection of the environment and as such deeply regrets any damage caused to the reef,” it said.