Indonesian city of Balikpapan declares state of emergency after oil spill

Thick plumes of smoke rise from fires near Balikpapan, Indonesia, on March 31, 2018, following an oil spill.
Thick plumes of smoke rise from fires near Balikpapan, Indonesia, on March 31, 2018, following an oil spill.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Officials in the Indonesian port city of Balikpapan declared a state of emergency on Monday (April 2) after an oil spill and a subsequent fire killed four people off Borneo island over the weekend.

"We're in a state of emergency because of the oil spill's impact," said Balikpapan city secretary MN Fadli.

He warned residents to be extra careful when spending time at affected beaches near Balikpapan Bay in East Kalimantan province, adding that they should not smoke near the area.

"I may sound like I'm exaggerating, but the state of the bay is like that of a gas station," he said.

The oil spill, which stretched for more than 400 metres in the bay on Saturday morning, has now spread to a radius of more than 2 kilometres in the waters around Semayang Port to Margasari, the Makassar Strait and beaches in the southeastern part of Makassar.

The Semayang Port Authority is coordinating with private oil company PT Chevron Indonesia and state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina to clean up the spill.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry's law enforcement director general, Rasio Ridho Sani, said a recovery team had deployed oil spill containment booms, which are temporary floating barriers used to contain an oil spill, as well as sprayed chemicals on the oil spots to make recovery easier.

"Our focus now is to mitigate the impact of the oil spill. Since Saturday, our team as well as Pertamina and the Balikpapan Environment and Sanitation Agency have worked together to minimise the impact."

Rasio said the agency also took some samples to determine the impact and source of the spill.

"Our team in the field is investigating it thoroughly. We will soon find out how big the impact is on the environment and who will be held responsible," he added.

The city has also distributed masks to protect local residents from the smell of fuel.

Some 1,200 people, who live in Penajam subdistrict, Penajam Paser Utara regency, said they became nauseous and experienced breathing problems after Saturday's incident.

Police have not yet released an official statement about the spill.

But state-owned energy giant Pertamina and the Balikpapan Disaster Mitigation Agency said the fire that flared up after the spill had not been caused by recovery activities, as was widely reported on Saturday.