INCREASING areas around the Great Barrier Reef that require ships to have pilots onboard could reduce the risk of an environmental disaster, a major reef pilot group says.
On Friday, an empty bulk carrier broke down off the coast north of Cairns and floated towards the heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.
Tug boats were dispatched to tow the 186m vessel to Townsville for repairs on Monday.
The near-miss prompted calls from environmentalists to tighten ship movements through the volatile reef.
But the group responsible for guiding the broken down ship away from the reef, Australian Reef Pilots, said increased shipping into Queensland did not pose an increased risk to the Great Barrier Reef.
"Yes, there is increased traffic but simply increasing compulsory pilotage areas within and around the reef would go a long way to preventing these types of incidents," chief executive officer Simon Meyjes said.
"The fact is there has never been a serious incident on the Great Barrier Reef when there has been an Australian Reef Pilot on board."
He said ships that travelled through the inner reef route were required to have a pilot on board.
"The reason this could have ended in disaster is that when the ship lost power and began to drift, it was in deep water outside the reef and couldn't anchor and was also a long way away from emergency assistance," Mr Meyjes said.
"If the ship had been travelling the inner route of the reef it would have been required to have a pilot on board and would have been in shallow waters."
The Greens environment spokeswoman Senator Larissa Waters said the Federal Government should completely axe its plan to increase fuel shipping through the reef.
"This incident demonstrates how reckless and foolhardy the Australian Government has been in rushing ahead with plans to massively increase shipping traffic for fossil fuels exports out of Queensland, and turning the Reef into a coal and gas superhighway," Ms Waters said.