Indonesia braces for more environmental damage as oil slick widens

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This picture taken on April 2, 2018 shows an Indonesian policeman trying to clean Benua Patra beach after a nearby oil spill in Balikpapan. (AFP)
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This aerial picture taken on April 2, 2018 shows part of the oil spill on Kemala beach in Balikpapan. (AFP)
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An oil spill off Borneo island that led to five deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency was caused by a ruptured undersea pipe, Indonesia's national oil company Pertamina said on April 4. (AFP)
Updated 09 April 2018
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Indonesia braces for more environmental damage as oil slick widens

  • Oil slick from a ruptured undersea pipeline has sprawled to 20,000 hectares
  • The initial oil slick was detected on March 31
JAKARTA: Indonesia has launched a massive clean-up operation off the coast of Balikpapan, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan province, where an oil slick from a ruptured undersea pipeline has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, contaminating mangrove forests and marine life.
The initial oil slick was detected on March 31. “It will take months to recover from the environmental damage,” a marine campaigner from Greenpeace Indonesia, Arifsyah Nasution, told Arab News.
Environmental activists in Balikpapan have teamed up to collect evidence and assess the environmental damage, he said.
The city’s administration has declared a state of emergency as locals’ livelihoods suffer. The spill has killed at least one Irrawaddy dolphin, a rare and protected species.
State-owned oil company Pertamina told Arab News that the spill was caused by one of its undersea pipelines being “dragged more than 100 meters from its location.” Nasution said the crisis could have been minimized if Pertamina had responded more quickly.
The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said the likely culprit is a Panama-flagged coal ship that dropped its anchor in Balikpapan Bay, dragging one of the pipelines and causing it to rupture.
The ministry’s oil and gas director general, Djoko Siswanto, said ships are not permitted to drop anchors in the part of the bay where the pipelines are installed.
Environmental and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has dispatched ministry officials to Balikpapan to spearhead the clean-up effort and assess the adverse impact on the bay’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Pertamina has deployed 15 cleaning vessels.
Bakar said the ministry team will measure the length of the coastline impacted by the spill. They found that it has so far polluted 34 hectares of mangrove wetlands in Kariangau village, and 6,000 mangrove trees in another village.
“We have asked Pertamina to prioritize cleaning the oil slick in waters close to human settlements to get rid of the oil’s nauseating smell and other imminent health hazards,” Bakar said.
The team is collecting temporary floating barriers from oil companies operating in the region to contain the spill.
“We are coordinating with the police, which will launch a criminal investigation into the case,” said Rasio Ridho Sani, the Forestry Ministry’s director general for law enforcement.
The ministry “will assist in determining the loss suffered by locals, and the compensation for those affected,” he added.
Octavinus, a search-and-rescue official in Balikpapan, said locals began to see the oil slick on March 31 and it burst into flames, burning two fishing boats.
An operation was immediately dispatched to rescue the fishermen, five of whom were killed, he added.
“A coal barge with 20 crew on board was sailing by, but the barge was only slightly damaged and the whole crew is safe,” he told Arab News.


Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

Updated 40 min 43 sec ago
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Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

  • Human Rights Watch warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
  • Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai.

CAIRO: An Egyptian military campaign to defeat Daesh militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula is choking essential food and medical supplies to thousands of residents in the desert region, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The army denied the charge.
The New York-based organization warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
The army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents over many years.
Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants since then, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai. The army has said it is winning the battle.
A military spokesman denied there were shortages, saying it was providing food and medical support throughout the areas it operated in, The HRW report had used “undocumented sources” in its report, he said.
“Thousands of food parcels have been and are being provided to people in North Sinai,” Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, the spokesman, added.
International news outlets are prevented from traveling to North Sinai to report.
Residents said food supplies, medicine and fuel were insufficient and that movement restrictions meant most people were unable to leave the region, HRW reported.
“A counter-terrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The report said authorities had banned the sale of petrol and cut communication lines, water and electricity in some areas of North Sinai including near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Residents told Reuters last month they often waited for hours for bread handouts which were not guaranteed to arrive.
Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising has been a promise of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.
El-Sisi’s critics say he has presided over Egypt’s worst crackdown on dissent. Supporters say such measures are needed to bring stability and improve the country’s hard-hit economy.
In Sinai, analysts and foreign diplomats say heavy-handed military tactics including air strikes and demolitions of populated areas have failed to defeat the insurgency.