South Africa to target Williamson’s wicket in second test

The hosts enter Thursday’s test, the second of a three-match series, at the Basin Reserve without Taylor and leading pace bowler Trent Boult, who were both injured in the rain-affected drawn first match in Dunedin.

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Boult would be a ‘huge loss’, du Plessis said, but New Zealand had depth in the pace bowling department with Tim Southee coming back after being omitted from the first test.

The key was to target New Zealand’s batting and particularly the inexperienced middle order, putting added focus on the wicket of Williamson after the skipper delivered a composed 130 at University Oval to stabilise his side.

“I said before the series that if we can get rid of Williamson and Taylor there’s a lot of pressure on the rest of the batting lineup,” du Plessis told reporters.

“We couldn’t get rid of Kane in the first test and they were successful as a unit. There lies the secret.”

Taylor’s replacement, Neil Broom, is to make his test debut at the age of 33, while number five Henry Nicholls is still trying to cement his place in international cricket. Jimmy Neesham’s ability to get consistent matches has been hampered by injury.

“With a new guy coming in, it’s an unknown,” du Plessis said, adding that they may look to initially squeeze Broom, who scored a total of four runs in three one-day innings against the Proteas last month.

“It’s up to us to put pressure on him and not give him boundaries and easy runs so he settles.”

Du Plessis had full confidence that his bowlers, who warmed to the task in Dunedin, would be able to exploit New Zealand’s underbelly, but the trick would be dealing with the notorious Wellington wind.

“It’s a tough job, especially from a seamers’ perspective,” said du Plessis, who added with a laugh that the team’s spinner might find himself bowling a lot of overs into the wind.

“We’ve got guys who are prepared to put in the work. KG (Kagiso Rabada), I certainly feel I can use him. He’s a guy who’s not scared of a challenge,” du Plessis said.

“Someone like Vernon doesn’t necessarily have to bowl quick all the time. He can bowl into the wind and gives you that control.

“And Morne has done the donkey work for years for South Africa. All three will be prepared to do the hard work.”

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Sturgeon to seek second Scottish referendum

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would seek the semi-autonomous Scottish parliament’s authority next week to ask the UK government in London for the powers to hold a referendum before Brexit happens.

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The decision heightened the uncertainty surrounding Britain as London braces for two years of tough negotiations to leave the European Union — itself an unprecedented step.

The Scottish move also triggered secessionist calls from nationalists in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum by a majority of 55 percent but recent polls indicate support for the union in pro-EU Scotland is declining as Brexit looms.

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A BMG survey for Scottish daily The Herald released Monday found that 52 percent were against breaking off from the rest of Britain, while an Ipsos MORI poll last week put the number at 51 percent.

The University of Aberdeen’s Scottish politics chair Michael Keating said the outcome was “wide open”.

But Sturgeon doesn’t want a vote immediately “because it’s the worst possible time to hold a referendum on independence: the price of oil is down and the economy is not doing very well,” he told AFP.

Mark Diffley, director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said Sturgeon would be hoping that “a very different campaign than 2014, conducted during what looks like a hard Brexit, will persuade enough voters to win”.

An independent Scotland would be hugely dependent on oil revenues from the North Sea fields and secession would raise many pressing economic issues, including what currency the new state could adopt.

Sturgeon said the new independence referendum could be held between late 2018 and early 2019, once the outline of the Brexit agreement becomes clear but before Britain actually leaves the EU.

Keating warned that applying to get back into the EU would be “horrendously complicated” for an independent Scotland.

‘Worst possible time’

For months, Sturgeon has pushed for Scotland to be allowed to stay in the European single market even as the rest of Britain pulls out but on Monday she said she had been faced with “a brick wall of intransigence”.

“I will now take the steps necessary to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process,” the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) leader said of Brexit.

The British government retorted that it would seek a deal with Brussels for the whole of Britain including Scotland.

“Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time,” Downing Street said.

A spokesman cited the SNP’s claim that the 2014 vote “would decide the issue for a generation”, without however explicitly ruling out permission for Scotland to hold a vote.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable.”

Ipsos MORI’s Diffley said May could refuse a referendum outright “with the risk that public opinion in Scotland will move firmly behind independence” or agree to allow Scotland to hold it only after Britain leaves the EU.

In the June 2016 Brexit referendum, 62 percent within Scotland voted for Britain to remain in the EU, but across the UK as a whole, 52 percent voted to leave.

‘End of the UK’?

The SNP runs a minority administration in Edinburgh, but with Green support they have the numbers required to back the call for a second referendum.  

Scottish opposition leader Ruth Davidson said Sturgeon’s “utterly irresponsible” and “partisan” proposal “offers Scotland the worst of all worlds”.

“Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face,” the Conservative said.

Meanwhile Irish Republicans Sinn Fein called for a swift referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the UK and joining the Republic of Ireland.

“That needs to happen as soon as possible,” said Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland.

And Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru said Sturgeon’s announcement meant the time had come for a national debate about Wales’s future.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said Sturgeon’s announcement “could lead to the end of the UK as a state”.

Kohli drops to 4th on ICC batting rankings

Virat Kohli continues to plummet down the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings, with India’s skipper now the fourth best batsman on the charts.

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Kohli started the four-Test series against Australia ranked second. Some judges may have regarded him as the best batsman in the world after posting a double-ton in each of India’s previous four series.

But the gap between Kohli and Steve Smith has widened – at least on the ICC’s rankings.

Kohli now has 847 ranking points after managing scores of zero and 13 in Pune then 12 and 15 in Bangalore.

The firebrand, who adopted a far more confrontational and antagonistic approach in the field during the second Test, is now within the sights of fifth-placed David Warner (794 points).

Smith (936), Kane Williamson (869) and Joe Root (848) top the charts.

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke, who dined with Kohli between the first and second Tests, cautioned the visitors about getting too excited with their hot run against the superstar.

“When I see Virat Kohli’s only made 40 runs in the series I think uh-oh, look out in Ranchi,” Clarke told India Today.

“He’s going to get a double hundred.

“This man is a freak, he’s an unbelievable superstar in all three formats. He’s so disciplined in every single thing he does.”

Kohli was one of India’s most influential players in the second Test, despite his lack of runs.

The 28-year-old fired up the heaving crowd and teammates, while his verbals seemingly rattled some of the visiting batsmen.

“He’s obviously quite passionate, but I just think he’s frustrated because he hasn’t scored runs and he’s letting his emotions get the better of him,” former Australia spearhead Mitchell Johnson wrote in a recent Fox Sports column.

“He was giving a send-off to just about every player, which you’ve got to be very careful with.”

The four-Test series, currently level at 1-1, continues in Ranchi on Thursday.

TEST BATTING RANKINGS

1: Steve Smith (936 points)

2: Kane Williamson (869)

3: Joe Root (848)

4: Virat Kohli (847)

5: David Warner (794).

Push to reopen NSW bugging probe inquiry

A NSW MP is pushing to reopen the parliamentary inquiry into the state ombudsman’s police bugging investigation as the scandal continues to escalate.

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The arm-wrestle between two of the state’s most powerful independent watchdogs again flared on Wednesday as the Crime Commission dismissed the Ombudsman’s 900-page report into the bugging probe as “fundamentally defective”.

Shooters Fishers and Farmers MLC Robert Borsak says he now wants to reopen the upper house inquiry into the Ombudsman’s investigation into the improper surveillance of senior police between 1999 and 2001.

“I had hoped that these issues would be put to bed once and for all, but the whole debacle just gets murkier and murkier,” Mr Borsak said on Thursday.

The minor party MP, who chaired the last committee, will seek opposition and crossbench support to reopen the inquiry.

“I hope witnesses will now be more forthcoming with testimony,” Mr Borsak said.

The public spat between the watchdogs comes at a tricky time for the state government as it looks to recruit a replacement for retiring Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione within weeks.

The Ombudsman’s report criticised two high-profile contenders for the top job – Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn and her former rival Nick Kaldas.

Mr Borsak on Thursday called on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to install an interim police commissioner until the “entire matter has been dealt with appropriately”, a move echoed by Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Ms Berejiklian has resisted calls for the recruitment to be halted, saying it is timely for the public and an independent assessment panel working on the recruitment to be aware of the new material.

Acting NSW Ombudsman Professor John McMillan meanwhile defended his report into Operation Prospect, arguing it provided “a professional, detailed and balanced analysis of complex issues”.

Defence not injuries the real worry: Henry

Their injury list is the stuff of nightmares but Gold Coast coach Neil Henry believes his biggest worry is the Titans defence – or lack thereof.

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Jarryd Hayne tops the Gold Coast’s 12-strong injury list after scans confirmed he would be sidelined for at least a month with “significant” ankle ligament damage.

Winger Anthony Don and hooker Karl Lawton (both shoulder) were also told on Monday they would be out for four to six weeks.

Backline depth has been further tested by a “mutual decision” to make centre Nathan Davis unavailable as he looks for another club.

Henry admitted he had never seen an injury list so long at a club after just two rounds, yet that wasn’t his real concern.

The Titans have leaked a league-worst 66 points in their two losses.

In the first round they conceded 28 points in one half alone.

Henry did not need to be told what they had to fix ahead of Friday night’s home clash with ladder leaders Parramatta.

“It’s tough (with injuries) but it doesn’t take away our disappointment with our defensive efforts,” he said.

“Both sides have rolled through us and we need to address that.”

The coach said even with a full contingent available in the first half in their second-round loss in Newcastle the signs were ominous for their defence.

“I don’t think I have had this many out this early in the season for a long time, if ever,” Henry said.

“But even when we had everyone out there (against Newcastle), that first half-hour we didn’t play particularly well.

“Across the park we have leaked too many points.”

The Gold Coast will have to address the problem quickly with a tough six-week run ahead of Parramatta (home), North Queensland (home), Warriors (away), Canberra (home), Brisbane (away) and defending premiers Cronulla (away).

The first hurdle is the red-hot Eels, fresh from their 34-16 thrashing of the Dragons.

“We are coming up against a Parramatta side that are the benchmark,” Henry said.

“They have had two strong performances, they will come here with a lot of confidence.”

Henry insisted the Titans would not use injuries as an excuse.

“We just need to find a way to get a couple of wins early in the season and then look forward to players coming back,” he said.

“And both of our games were winnable even taking into account our injury toll – they were games we could have closed out.”

New ACTU secretary under fire for industrial action comments

Sally McManus, recently confirmed as the next secretary of peak trade union body the ACTU, is in the spotlight after comments she made to the ABC’s 7.

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30 program on Wednesday evening.

“I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right,” Ms McManus told the ABC when asked about the CFMEU’s illegal industrial action.

“But when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”

Her comments were seized on by the federal minister for employment, Michaela Cash, who labelled them “outrageous” and called on the opposition leader Bill Shorten to condemn them.

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“This is an extraordinary admission by a newly minted union leader that she believes she is above the law and that unions can pick and choose when they obey the law and when they do not,” she said in a statement.

“Corrupt unions such as the CFMEU have an atrocious record of lawlessness and militancy that has tonight been justified and excused by Ms McManus.”

Ms McManus, the existing ACTU vice president, has been elected to replace Dave Oliver after he announced his resignation in January.

She becomes the first woman to hold the position in the organisation’s 90-year history and will work alongside president Ged Kearney.

After her election to the position earlier on Wednesday, Ms McManus said she’s excited about the future but there are significant challenges facing working Australians.

“My message today to all Australian workers: Join a union,” she said.

“My first challenge is to stop the attack on Australian workers through penalty rate cuts.”

Ms Kearney said the election of the first woman as ACTU secretary is historic for the union movement.

“Her election signifies a commitment to and a shift towards true diversity and gender equity,” she said.

“We … look forward to her leading the fight to protect and expand the rights of working people in this country at a time when corporate power threatens to undermine all we have fought for.”

Jones says grand slam is the real prize

England refused to celebrate their successful Six Nations title defence on Saturday after Eddie Jones declared the Grand Slam as the real prize.

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For a second consecutive year the crown was secured with a round to spare after Scotland were demolished 61-21 at Twickenham, completing a record-equalling 18th straight victory in the process.

Only Ireland can prevent England from becoming the sixth team in the history of the Championship to defend a Grand Slam when the rivals collide in Dublin.

Upon dispatching Scotland, the squad gathered with their families at their training base but the champagne was put on ice as Jones reflected on the jitters evident at the same stage last year.

“We didn’t celebrate. We haven’t got anything to celebrate yet. It is all ahead of us,” Jones said.

“Last year we were nervous and I expect us to be nervous this year. It is a big occasion.

“You don’t get a chance to win a Grand Slam back-to-back too many times but experience helps.

“Every year winning is difficult. There’s a perception that this Six Nations has been better and it probably has been, but you’ve still got to win and to win it you’ve got to stay undefeated.

“You have to be around your best for five games in a row. That’s an achievement.”

Ireland’s own title aspirations evaporated with their 22-9 defeat in Cardiff on Friday night, but Jones is wary of opponents who he recalls were widely tipped to seize England’s crown.

“Ireland are an extremely well coached side and they’ll be grossly disappointed by their performance on Friday,” Jones said.

“I’ve just been reading all the predictions at the start of the tournament and a number of people tipped them to win the competition.

“They were favourites but they haven’t won the Six Nations and they’ll be carrying the expectation of their country to do well.”

Australian held in Bulgaria over terrorism charges

An Australian man is being held in a Bulgarian jail on terrorism charges, according to Fairfax Media.

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Twenty-one-year-old John Zakhariev has been in custody in the eastern European country since September, with authorities claiming he tried to join a terrorist group in Syria in 2013.

Bulgarian officials say he attended shooting ranges and had “jihadist material” with him.

Mr Zakhariev grew up in Sydney’s inner west, graduating from Waverley College in 2012.

The school has expressed its sadness at the allegations.

“Young men often have questions and challenges they go through and sometimes they make choices that we don’t understand,” a statement released by the college reads.

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His family says they fear his case is being used by Bulgaria to show their “tough stance” on terrorism.

His sister Nevena Zakhariev has also accused the Australian government of offering little help, and of largely ignoring her brother’s plight.

“He’s not really being supported at the moment,” she told SBS News. 

“They visit him now and then just to check how he’s going but that’s all they can do for him at the moment.”

Ms Zakhariev said there was no evidence supporting the terrorism charges and she and her family were concerned he would not get a hearing in Bulgaria’s legal system.

“It’s a little bit ridiculous because the evidence they actually have against him is that he’s been to a shooting range, maybe less than a handful of times in his entire life,” she said.

“The jihadist material that they found on him was a book on the history of Islam, which I do not think is jihadist material at all, it’s just a history book, and another suspicion was that he went to Syria in 2013.

“But since he went to Syria in 2013 he’s also travelled to South America, he worked in Brazil at a youth hostel, he’s been to Morocco and he studied in Lebanon as well, so it just doesn’t add up why they would pick on that one time he went to Syria for eight days … to work in a refugee camp.”

She also condemned people who had called for her brother to be deported, saying he had grown up in Australia.

“I don’t understand why there’s all these uneducated comments about sending him back to where he came from, deporting him, and having all these really uneducated opinions about an issue they don’t even know,” she said.

“Not everyone should be so quick to judge just because there’s a boy on terrorism charges that he’s automatically guilty. I don’t think that’s how anyone should handle a situation like this.” 

Mr Zakhariev is being held at the same maximum security facility as Australian Jock Palfreeman, who is serving 20 years for murder.

Ms Zakhariev said her brother was occasionally able to speak Palfreeman and a few other English-speaking prisoners in the foreigners’ wing of the jail.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed to AAP it’s providing assistance to “an Australian man detained in Bulgaria”.

It’s also believed the Australian ambassador in Bulgaria and another official have visited Mr Zakhariev in prison.

Mr Zakhariev faces eight years if convicted.

– with AAP

Watch: The Feed’s investigation into the case of Jock Palfreeman

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Life imitates art in British Quidditch Cup

With poles instead of broomsticks between their legs, competitors battle it out in a sport usually reserved for witches and wizards and described by one enthusiastic participant as “organised chaos”.

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They are competing for the British Quidditch Cup, in a tournament which draws its inspiration from the magical Harry Potter universe created by author JK Rowling but which has had to be modified to allow for the limitations of ordinary mortals, known in her books as Muggles.

Instead of flying through the air on magical broomsticks, these competitors run around the pitch holding on tightly to their poles.

“It’s a mixed gender, multi-national sport – it’s played in over 20 countries worldwide,” Tom Heynes, a player for the Velociraptors team, said during the weekend tournament in the central English county of Staffordshire.

“It’s basically a mix of rugby, dodgeball, little bits of handball thrown in there. The best way to describe it is organised chaos. It’s just a bit hectic on pitch but it’s fantastic.”

Teams are made up of seven players who try to score by throwing a ball through hoops while seeking the snitch – a small, winged golden ball in the Harry Potter books but on this pitch a tennis ball in a yellow sock dangling from the back of one of the players.

Some 32 teams from across Britain took part in the weekend event, organised by QuidditchUK.

“There is no one good Quidditch player. Some of the smallest girls, they can be incredible, and likewise you’ve got some stereotypical rugby guys who also will be really good,” tournament organiser and quidditch player Beth Thompson said.

“Any body type, any personality, as long as you can throw and catch.”

In the end, the Velociraptors beat the Brizzlebears with a score of 260 points to 60.

Indonesia seeks justice after cruise ship ‘irreparably’ damages world’s richest coral reef

Indonesia says it wants to take action after Captain Keith Michael Taylor smashed the Caledonian Sky cruise ship into a pristine coral reef then dragged across it at Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s West Papua province last week.

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Conservation International Indonesia, Papua University and West Papua’s Regional Technical Implementing Unit said their initial evaluation of the damage caused by the ship, run by UK-tour operator Noble Caledonia, spread across 14,000 square metres.

In a statement this week, the Indonesian Maritime Affairs Ministry spokesperson said the destruction to the largely untouched Raja Ampat – known to be the most biodiverse in the world, according WWF – was “impossible to repair”.

Terkait kerusakan terumbu karang Raja Ampat oleh kapal pesiar Inggris, ini yang akan dilakukan pemerintah RI dalam waktu dekat. @kemaritiman pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/RT3CgQhNEp

— Send us your video! (@CNNIDconnected) March 14, 2017

On March 4, the Caledonian Sky cruise ship carrying 102 tourists ran aground on coral reef surrounding Raja Ampat archipelago, comprising around 1,000 islands, northwest of Indonesia’s West Papua province.

Captain Taylor manoeuvred the ship back to deeper waters using GPS but did not consider the low tide, according to the Maritime Affairs Ministry.

The ministry spokesperson said that “coral reefs which have been growing for hundreds of years were marred by the captain of MV Caledonian Sky in less than a day”.

“Worse, the coral reefs damaged by the captain of Caledonian Sky was located right in the heart of Raja Ampat, the centre of marine biodiversity.” 

They added it was “impossible to repair parts of the reefs that have been damaged or destroyed”.

Coral and marine life at Raja Ampat, or Four Kings, in Indonesia. Photo: Ratha Grimes/Creative Commons.Ratha Grimes

Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told media at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Tuesday that the government this week commenced a joint task force, including his ministry, the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Attorney General and the National Police, to investigate the incident.

The task force will assess the environmental damage, and whether the captain and Noble Caledonia breached Indonesian laws.

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The Maritime Ministry spokesperson said while Noble Caledonia’s insurance companies said they would pay for the damage to the environment, “that does not eliminate the criminal aspect of the case”.  

Under Indonesia’s 2009 Environment and Protection Management Law, damaging natural resources, such as coral reefs, is an offence that carries the possibility of imprisonment.

The Transportation Ministry is determining whether the ship had permission to enter shallow waters and whether the ship was equipped to measure water depth.

Conservation International Indonesia program manager Albert Nebore said, as quoted by Indonesia’s daily The Jakarta Post, the cruise ship reportedly entered the area without consulting local guides.

“The skipper forced the ship to enter the area, which was not open to cruise ships,” he said.

Raja Ampat is known for its majestic natural surrounds. Photo: Max Mossler/Creative CommonsMax Mossler/Creative Commons

In a statement provide to SBS, a Noble Caledonia spokesperson apologised.

“As a company we are very upset that this incident has led to the damage to this reef. 

“We value our relationships around the world with local people and we are sorry to have impacted the local community,” they said.

“To this end, Noble Caledonia has established a fund with the aim of helping the local population and contributing to the repair of the reef. We would like to send our own expedition teams to help with the regeneration.”

The spokesperson said that the ship grounded just after high water at 12.41pm on March 4. A decision was made to try and refloat her on the next high water at 10.30pm.

An Indonesian Search and Rescue Authority suggested to use a tugboat to help move her with the incoming tide at 9.20pm, and the local harbour master agreed, according to the spokesperson.

However, this attempt to refloat the ship failed, they added.

“We immediately recognised that our actions caused this incident. We now need to establish precisely how we can assist local operators and authorities to finance and work towards a regeneration of this vital reef.” 

They added that Noble Caledonia was confident in the captain commanding the ship who they said had been navigating the Asia-Pacific waters for more than 20 years.

‘No-go zone for at least five years’

Conservation International told SBS the best way to restore Raja Ampat where there are largely abundant healthy reefs surrounding the grounding site was through natural regeneration.

Dr Mark Erdmann, a coral reef ecologist and vice president of Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific Marine Programs said it would take several hundred years to return to its former state.

“Under the best conditions, such an area of damage will take a decade or more to return to a similar percentage of live coral cover, and could easily take several centuries to return to its former state given that a number of the large boulder coral colonies destroyed by the grounding are between 200 and 400 years old,” said Dr Erdmann, who has worked in Raja Ampat for about 15 years.

“We will recommend that the grounding site be designated a strict no-go zone for at least the next five years, to prevent any further stress from fishing or tourism activities and allow maximum recovery potential.”

Coral at Raja Ampat. Photo: Kevin Dooley/Creative Commons Kevin Dooley/Creative Commons

Cost of the damage

Authorities estimated the value of the coral reef there to be worth between US$817 and $1,296 per square meter.

But Dr Erdmann said it could be much more.

By comparison, the Northern Marianas Commonwealth house bill calculates $3000 per square meter ship for groundings on coral reefs in the Commonwealth, Dr Erdmann explained.

If there are aggravating circumstances, such as a cruise ship moving through a reef area where it shouldn’t be, another $1000 per square meter is added.

An additional $1000 per square meter fine may be imposed if an accident occurs in a marine park, such as Raja Ampat’s Dampier Strait, and yet another $1000 per square meter if it occurs on threatened coral species.

“In this case, the Caledonia Sky would be fined $6000 per square meter if this accident had happened in the Northern Marianas,” Dr Erdmann said. 

A fish swims through coral in Raja Ampat’s waters. Photo: Ratha Grimes/Creative CommonsRatha Grimes/Creative Commons