Ship's anchor ripping up pipeline likely oil spill cause

A dead dolphin (above) appears to be a casualty of the spill, as residents join a policewoman in the cleanup operation.
A dead dolphin appears to be a casualty of the spill, as residents join a policewoman in the cleanup operation.PHOTO: REUTERS
A dead dolphin (above) appears to be a casualty of the spill, as residents join a policewoman in the cleanup operation.
A dead dolphin (above) appears to be a casualty of the spill, as residents join a policewoman in the cleanup operation.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • A coal ship that dropped anchor off the coast of the Indonesian port city of Balikpapan on Borneo island was likely to blame for an oil spill, after dragging a pipeline more than 100m and causing it to crack, an energy ministry official said yesterday.

Indonesia declared a state of emergency this week after the spill and fire killed five fishermen.

The Environment Ministry said the oil covered an area of nearly 13,000 ha and had polluted 60km of coastal ecosystems, including mangrove wetlands and marine mammal habitats.

"We suspect the pipe was dragged by the ship that caught fire," oil and gas director general Djoko Siswanto told reporters yesterday.

"At the time it was bad weather, so they had to drop anchor," Mr Siswanto said, noting it was an area where ships were not supposed to anchor.

THE FINGER OF SUSPICION

We suspect the pipe was dragged by the ship that caught fire.

OIL AND GAS DIRECTOR GENERAL DJOKO SISWANTO

Mr Siswanto did not identify the vessel, but said it was a coal ship which was flying a Panama flag.

Balikpapan is a bustling mining and energy hub, sitting on a shipping lane serving one of Indonesia's biggest thermal coal mining regions.

State oil company Pertamina had at first said initial tests showed the oil was marine oil used in boats, but on Wednesday said a cracked 20-year-old underwater pipeline linked to its refinery in Balikpapan was the source.

By Tuesday night, around 70 cubic metres of spilled oil had been contained by a team from several oil companies operating in the area and government agencies, the Environment Ministry said.

Thick clumps of oil were still visible in some areas yesterday, but "much less than the several days prior," Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

The ministry, which is responsible for supervising the cleanup and compensation claims, had asked Pertamina to contain the remaining oil and help affected members of the community, Ms Nurbaya said.

Mr Siswanto said the spill had been stopped and "the remains of the oil spill are still being cleaned up".

He did not estimate how much oil had spilled.

The spill had reduced the operational capacity of the Balikpapan oil refinery, a Pertamina official said. A second, smaller, undamaged pipeline running next to the broken pipe was being used to deliver crude to the refinery, with additional oil supplied via tankers, Mr Siswanto said.

Mr Siswanto said Pertamina had been late in announcing the source of the oil, but said the government was investigating the company that owned the vessel suspected of breaking the state company's pipeline.

The vessel owners would be questioned and could be charged over the deaths resulting from the spill, he said. "It depends on who was to blame. It depends on the investigation," he added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'Ship's anchor ripping up pipeline likely oil spill cause'. Print Edition | Subscribe