Environment / Indonesia declares state of emergency in Borneo as oil spill claims four lives

Posted on: April 4, 2018 | Current Affairs

Indonesia’s national government will send aid to local authorities in an attempt to contain an oil spill that has already claimed four lives and wreaked havoc on local coastline

A man assists workers evacuating after a fire from a burned oil spill at the waters in Balikpapan, Indonesia Photo: EPA-EFE

Indonesia has declared a state of emergency around Balikpapan port on Borneo island in response to an oil spill and concomitant fire that claimed the lives of four fishermen on the weekend.

The declaration allows government funds to be distributed to local authorities to aid ongoing efforts to contain the spill, which currently covers an area of 12 square kilometres but appears to spreading quickly.

In addition to the four deaths, hundreds of people have reported experiencing difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting since the oil fires broke out, according to local officials.

Fishermen also said that the spill had had a significant impact on their livelihoods and killed a protected dugong, which washed up on a local beach on Monday, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

While the origins of the spill have yet to be established, affected fishermen and environmentalists have laid the blame squarely at the feet of state-owned oil company Pertamina, which operates a large oil refinery roughly 100m away from the spill.

Pertamina’s general manager for Refinery Unit V Togar Manuring, however, has denied that the oil company is responsible for the spill.

Pointing to evidence that the spill comprised marine fuel oil, not crude oil, he protested Pertamina’s innocence to the Jakarta Post on Saturday, and later explained to the ABC that his divers had failed to find any pipeline leaks and that his company was, therefore, “still running the refinery facility normally”.

Local fishermen, however, have refused to accept Manuring’s explanation and plan to hold a demonstration later today against the lack of responsibility shown by the Indonesian Government and Pertamina.

“We think there must be a leak from the Pertamina pipe because it’s located very close to the oil — maybe 100 metres,” Pradarma Rupang, from the local environmental group Jatam, told the ABC.

“There is no shipwreck, no collision, no sinking ship, no burned ship, nothing. Suddenly oil appears in the middle of the sea.”

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