Indonesia to boost fleet of waterbombers involved in firefighting operations

JAKARTA - Indonesia is planning to reinforce the fleet of fixed-wing waterbombers involved in the ongoing firefighting operations over South Sumatra, said the country's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

This, after two Russian Beriev Be-200 waterbombers, each capable of hauling 12,000 litres of water in its hull to douse fires, were involved in Wesnesday's operations.

These aircraft have special tanks designed for mixing water and firefighting chemicals to boost their effectiveness when putting out fires, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Wednesday.

"The two aircraft will continue to focus on Ogan Komering Ilir, where fires are still raging violently," he added, referring to the regency in South Sumatra, which remains one of the worst hit by peatland fires this year.

"Right now, the government is still trying to procure between 10 and 15 additional fixed-wing waterbombing aircraft from Canada, Russia and Australia."

Separately, in a report by Indonesia's Tempo news magazine earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan commented on the challenges of putting out peatland fires during this dry season.

In an apparent reply to a question on why Singapore's offer of assistance was initially turned down by his government, Mr Luhut was quoted as saying that it was because Singapore "offered only one aircraft. It was insulting".

When asked for a response at a briefing on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said: "Singapore did offer one aircraft and we accepted the offer. It shows a good faith that we work together with our neighbours. We also work together with Malaysia, Australia. We appreciate all international assistance."

When the haze crisis peaked last month, Singapore had offered an assistance package which included a C-130 military transport plane for cloud seeding, up to two C-130s to ferry a firefighting assistance team, as well as a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg