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.


Afghans vote in crucial parliamentary elections, amid attacks, major irregularities reported

Updated 20 October 2018
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Afghans vote in crucial parliamentary elections, amid attacks, major irregularities reported

  • Scores of people, including 10 candidates, have died in a series of attacks by Taliban and Daesh in recent months
  • Initial results of the vote will be released in three weeks’ time

KABUL: Afghans cast their vote on Saturday for a new parliament despite numerous attacks in several parts of the country, including Kabul, and amid reports of widespread irregularities.
Initial results of the vote, delayed by more than three years because of a power struggle in the government, will be released in three weeks’ time.
Final results will be published after two months.
The ballot is regarded as crucial for the stability of Afghanistan, wracked by more than four decades of war, foreign interventions and tribal rift.
The latest poll is the third for choosing a legislative body since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.
Many candidates are young and educated men and women who want to replace current MPs at the house, regarded as one dominated by corrupt elements and factional members as Taliban and Daesh spread their attacks in the country.
The Taliban guerrillas had threatened to disrupt the process, conducted various attacks, including firing mortars, suicide raids and bomb blasts near some polling stations, including in at least five areas of Kabul.
There were reports of some casualties among voters and security forces.
“Today, we proved together that we uphold democracy with casting out ballots without fear, we honor the sacrifices of the fallen,” President Ashraf Ghani told reporters after casting his vote in a highly protected school near the presidential palace in Kabul.
Cases of widespread irregularities across the country were reported by journalists, locals and even government officials.
They include late opening of sites, lack of knowledge of some election works in recording votes and use of biometric devices, aimed at reducing fraud, which is another major concern apart from security threats.
Observers and media were barred from visiting some sites. Some stations did not open at all. The country’s second Chief Executive, Mohammad Mohaqiq, openly said that at least 22 stations did not open at all in only two areas in Kabul city itself.
Simar Soresh, a spokesman for the election commission, confirmed that some sites remained closed owing to “technical challenges,” vowing to prolong voting hours when they open.
Many blamed the government appointed elections body for the shortcomings. The body has faced organizational problems and a rift owing to a power struggle among government leaders.
Some frustrated voters even went back home after waiting for hours for the opening of polling stations in Kabul.
In one such station, a policeman asked voters if they knew the voting process so he could let the station open. In northern Maimana, people complained that there were no biometric devices in place.
In others, voters said they could not find their names on the books where they had registered months before during the registration process. It would take at least five minutes for a voter to cast a vote.
One journalist covering the event closely described the situation as “Mismanagement and chaos across the country.”
“This is just a joke, I am leaving. I came to vote despite the Taliban warning, but you see the mess and confusion and heard the blasts. It is not worth dying for this because the process is not handled properly,” Zaman Khan, a bewildered voter in a central area of Kabul, told Arab News.
The irregularities that led to closure and caused slow voting process are seen as a further blow to the voting, which is funded by donors’ money.
The government already had said it could not open some 2,000 sites because of security threats.
Scores of people, including 10 candidates, have died in a series of attacks by Taliban and Daesh in recent months.
The government delayed the holding of the polls in the historically important southern Kandahar for a week after an attack that killed its powerful police chief and intelligence head.
Bilal Sarwary, a candidate from eastern Kunar, said like some other parts of the country, there were “high irregularities” during the voting there.
“Some sites opened very late. The biometric system did not work in some sites and in others they were slow or election workers did not know how to use them,” he told Arab News by phone.
“Some state officials interfered in some sites; there were no voting papers in some areas. Overall there were irregularities and confusion. It is a pity that with the sacrifice and so much money, irregularities marred the process.”