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.


Spanish court gears up for high-stakes trial of separatists

Updated 3 min 25 sec ago
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Spanish court gears up for high-stakes trial of separatists

  • Supreme Court judges rejected similar defense appeals during the investigative stage of the case

MADRID: A preliminary hearing in a rebellion case against Catalan separatists Tuesday displayed some of the dynamics between defense and prosecutors expected during a trial that is likely to dominate Spanish politics.
Altogether, 18 former politicians and activists from the Catalonia region are charged with rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of public funds for their parts in an attempt to secede from Spain last year.
At Tuesday's hearing, a panel of seven magistrates heard from defense attorneys who argued the trial should be heard by the top regional court in Catalonia rather than Spain's highest court in Madrid.
Prosecutors countered that Madrid was the proper venue, saying the events that led regional lawmakers to make a unilateral declaration of independence on Oct. 27, 2017 had ramifications outside of Catalonia.
The country's top court also has jurisdiction, prosecutors argued, because the secession attempt affected all Spaniards.
Supreme Court judges rejected similar defense appeals during the investigative stage of the case. A final decision is expected later this week.
If the top court keeps the case, former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, activist-turned-politician Jordi Sanchez and 16 other defendants are expected to appear there when the trial proceedings get underway at the end of January.
Four defendants are three weeks into a prison hunger strike to protest what they deem unfair treatment by Spain's judiciary. Central government authorities say there is no reason for the strike and the defendants' rights are guaranteed by Spain's independent judiciary.
The "trial of the century," as it's been labeled by domestic media, has taken a high political significance. Separatists in the northeastern region have made clear that they will use proceedings to prove that they are being tried for their ideas, and in particular for advancing a secessionist agenda.
In addition to prosecutors and state attorneys, a far-right party that has recently emerged in Spanish politics sits on the prosecution bench. Vox wants to use the trial to showcase its hard stance against nationalism and its defense of Spanish unity ahead of European and local elections in May next year.