Cruise ship crashes into one of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world

The dreamy beauty of a coral reef in Southeast Asia has been partially damaged by a massive, 4,290-ton cruise ship called the Caledonian Sky.

On Saturday, the ship crashed into a popular diving site called Crossover Reef, which holds some of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world, located in West Papua province, environmental news outlet Mongabayreports.

It reportedly managed to smash some 17,000 square feet of coral in an area previously pristine enough to be considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's expected it'll take nearly 10 years for a full recovery from the incident. Now local officials want the British-owned cruise ship company to pay for the damage.

The Caledonian Sky — operated by British tourism company Noble Caledonia — found itself caught in a low tide before plowing into the reefs located along the Indonesian island chain of Raja Ampat.

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From there, a boat was brought in to help refloat the cruise ship, which actually just made things worse, according to Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources at the University of Papua. Tapilatu helped investigate the incident to estimate damages.

"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 worse," Tapilatu told Mongabay. "They should've waited for high tide."

Other locals were also critical of the ship's inability to avoid damaging the reefs. Tourism group Stay Raja Ampat wrote a post on Facebook asking if there was a 12-year-old at the wheel, saying, "How can this happen?"

The environmental damage affected eight different coral groups in an area that's known to have some of the richest biodiversity in the world, with 10 times as many coral species as in the Caribbean. And coral reefs in general are often thought to be the most biodiverse of any ecosystems on earth.

After local authorities sent in a team to investigate, it was estimated the total damage runs anywhere from $1.28 million to $1.92 million, according to Tapilatu.

Despite wreaking havoc on those precious reefs, the 102-passenger ship saw very minimal damage and was able to sail away with all its passengers and 79 crew members safe. Noble Caledonia expressed regret over the incident, saying in a statement the whole thing was "unfortunate."

"Noble Caledonia is firmly committed to protection of the environment, which is why it is imperative that the reasons for it are fully investigated, understood and any lessons learned incorporated in operating procedures," the company wrote.

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