SAF, SCDF teams head to Indonesia to help fight fires

(From left) SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap and Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, sending off the SAF and SCDF personnel at Sembawang Airbase. The group was set to take off on Friday but was delayed by poor visibility in Palembang. Singapore
Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel boarding a Republic of Singapore Air Force Chinook helicopter at Sembawang Airbase yesterday. The SAF deployed three aircraft and a team of 34 personnel to help Indonesia battle forest fires causing the haze crisis, while the SCDF sent a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
(From left) SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap and Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, sending off the SAF and SCDF personnel at Sembawang Airbase. The group was set to take off on Friday but was delayed by poor visibility in Palembang. Singapore
(From left) SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap and Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, sending off the SAF and SCDF personnel at Sembawang Airbase. The group was set to take off on Friday but was delayed by poor visibility in Palembang. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deployed three aircraft and a 34- strong team to Indonesia yesterday morning, in aid of the country's battle with forest fires in Sumatra.

They were accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), said the Ministry of Defence.

Indonesia's current haze crisis has affected millions across the region in recent weeks.

Apart from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and China have also stepped up to help, with Australia the latest country to say it will send a Lockheed L-100 Hercules to assist in water-bombing operations.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country is familiar with the devastating effects of the fires and wanted to support Indonesia in this time of need.

"While Australia has experienced a dramatic start to the bushfire season, a lull in severe weather conditions has meant we can assist Indonesia and still maintain national aerial firefighting coverage," she said.

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft involved in the mission include a CH-47D Chinook helicopter, which will haul a 5,000-litre heli-bucket, and two C-130 transport planes to ferry the SAF and SCDF personnel and their equipment to the area of operations.

The Dart officers will oversee the deployment of the heli-bucket, which will drop water from the air onto fires to put them out.

Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) said a Bombardier amphibious aircraft and its Malaysian crew had arrived on Friday to begin water-bombing efforts in South Sumatra.

"They are currently being briefed by the disaster mitigation chief and the water bombing will start immediately after that," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

The BNPB had said earlier that the team from Singapore is expected to be deployed in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, which are among the worst hit by peatland fires this year.

Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, and SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap were at Sembawang Airbase to send off the team yesterday morning. The group was set to take off for Indonesia on Friday but poor visibility in Palembang delayed its departure.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the capital city of South Sumatra peaked at 470, which is in the hazardous zone, at 8am yesterday before falling to 198 at 6pm in the evening.

In Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, where schools were shut for more than three weeks, the PSI was at 1,865, way above hazardous levels.

Most of the firefighting and haze mitigation efforts have been focused on South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan due to the severe conditions in both provinces.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that while help from friendly countries has started to arrive, putting out the fires under peatland will still be challenging.

He added in a post on Facebook that 36 per cent of the fires in Kalimantan and 46 per cent in Sumatra are on peatland.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry said companies and individuals responsible for illegal forest fires could face multiple charges under environment, money-laundering and plantation laws.

"The charges will be multiple to give a deterrent effect," said the ministry's directorate general secretary of law enforcement, Mr Novrizal Bahar.

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'SAF, SCDF teams head to Indonesia to help fight fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe