Police in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province on Tuesday announced they had seized a Panama-flagged ship allegedly linked to an oil spill in Balikpapan Bay that led to a massive fire and five deaths on March 31.
The Ever Judger, which was carrying coal, was anchoring off Balikpapan city when it damaged an underwater pipeline operated by Indonesian state-owned oil and natural gas corporation Pertamina, according to local authorities.
“We decided to seize the ship for a thorough investigation of the oil spill that harmed Balikpapan Bay for 21 days,” East Kalimantan Police investigation chief Yustan Alpiani told reporters on Tuesday.
In addition, police requested that the immigration office detain the ship’s captain and 20 crewmen – all Chinese nationals.
“Evidence found during our investigation showed that the pipeline was damaged because of the ship’s anchor,” Utsan said, adding that the evidence included three pieces of the pipe.
“We have secured the evidence at Pertamina’s Jeti Port of Balikpapan. It will reconstructed by a team of Indonesia Police’s forensic lab,” Yustan said.
In a recent statement, Pertamina expressed appreciation for the police investigation.
“We have heard from the police and we’re still waiting for them to officially announce the cause of the incident,” Yudy Nugraha, Pertamina’s Kalimantan regional communication manager, said.
The underwater pipeline is one of five contracted by Pertamina to supply its Balikpapan plant with 260,000 barrels of oil daily.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment insisted that Pertamina was responsible for the environmental damage in Balikpapan Bay.
“The Environment Law states that the producer of waste is responsible in the environmental recovery process,” said Tri Bangun Laksono, chief of Kalimantan Ecoregional Development Control.
Pertamina, he said, could file a complaint against whomever was responsible for causing the spill. The spill covered more than 32,000 acres, according to officials.
“If the ship is later found guilty, Pertamina is advised to file a charge against it. But it’s now Pertamina’s responsibility,” he said.
The East Kalimantan office of Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) urged the government to improve security around the oil processing plant.
Jatam’s Pradharma Rupang said the plant’s security could face threats from foreigners, adding the coal ship should not take full blame for the spill.
“It’s a foreign ship. It will obey the country’s regulation when it enters the country. There was supposed to be assistance from Pertamina and the Indonesia Navy,” he said. “But we didn’t see any. There was no early warning system that could help avoid the incident.”
Balikpapan Bay Care Forum activist Husein, who uses only one name, said oil could be found in the nearby waters of Balang Island, Tempadung, Pudak and Somber.
Environmental activists predicted the recovery could take six months.
“Oil pollution will harm the underwater life in Balikpapan Bay,” he said.