The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) says it cannot afford to clean up the mix of oil and paint left when a Chinese bulk coal carrier hit the reef in 2010.

Chinese ship Shen Neng One ran aground on a section of the Reef off the central Queensland coast on April 3, 2010, slamming into the vital natural resource when it veered more than 10 kilometres outside the shipping lane.

The grounding punched a hole in the ship’s fuel tanks, which spilled and created a four-kilometre-long slick of heavy fuel oil and toxic antifouling paint.

Much of this material is now embedded in the sea floor, and is part of legal action against the ship’s owner, Shenzhen Energy Company.

The Shen Neng One cut a giant scar in the Douglas Shoal area as part of the largest known damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by a ship.

In 2012, the captain of the ship was fined $25,000 and its second-in-charge was given three months’ jail, but the Government is now seeking clean-up costs as well.

The Federal Government is pursuing legal action against Shenzhen Energy Company.

GBRMPA chief executive officer Russell Reichelt says the clean-up must happen “urgently”, but it does not have the money.

“It's our view and was briefed to the Minister — the Minister's view — [this] should be done as soon as we possibly can,” Dr Reichelt told Senate Estimates.

“It's preventing the natural recovery process in the more than 50 hectares of sea floor.

“[It's about] resourcing.

“It would be a substantial cost beyond the capacity of our budget ... it would exceed $50 million.

“It remains our best avenue to achieve those funds.

“It is an issue for the authority and we've repeatedly made it clear through the courts to the company.”

Separately, a recommendation could be handed down this week that will advise UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on whether to list the reef as ‘in danger’.