SORONG, Indonesia : (APP) A British-owned cruise ship has smashed into pristine coral reefs, causing extensive damage in a remote corner of Indonesia known as one of the world's most biodiverse marine habitats, researchers and officials said Tuesday.
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.
But 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.
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.
"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."