Category: Disaster

Jakarta residents ponder future as city sinks

Irma Susanti lives a few metres away from a concrete wall that barely keeps seawater from inundating her slum neighbourhood in the north of the Indonesian capital.

A few years ago, authorities raised the wall by nearly a metre, to 2.3 metres high. But even that is sometimes not enough to prevent the dark brown smelly water from entering her house during torrential rain.

On the other side of the wall, the water is covered in a thick carpet of rubbish: tyres, flip-flops, used plastic cups, plastic bags and condoms.

Irma sits on a bench in the scorching sun, her 1-year-old daughter in her arms and an older woman next to her.

“We are always on the lookout for flooding, because the wall can’t always keep the water out,” the 30-year-old mother of two says.

The flooding is worst in January and February, she says, when rain is frequent or when the tide is high.

“My husband works here as a fisherman, so we have no choice but to stay,” Irma says.

No other city in the world is sinking faster than Jakarta. Twenty per cent of the territory is below sea level, and that figure is set to nearly double by 2050, according to researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

The situation is most dire in Jakarta’s northern neighbourhoods, which researchers say will be nearly completely flooded in three decades.

That’s the case at the Wall Adhuna mosque in the harbour district, about 10 minutes by foot from Irma’s neighbourhood. Built during the Dutch era as a small mosque for Muslim sailors, it was abandoned in 2005 after it was flooded, and a wall was built to separate it from dry land. The mosque now stands like a monument to a flood apocalypse, its roof half-collapsed and its walls covered with mould.

Jakarta was founded in 1527 by the sultan of the Sunda Kingdom, who conquered the area from the Portuguese and named it Jayakarta, or Great Victory.

Dutch colonial rulers later renamed the city Batavia as they set out to create a tropical Amsterdam with a dense network of streets and canals. Today, it bears little resemblance to the Dutch capital, with hundreds of thousands of cars idling in hours-long traffic jams, few pedestrians and only a handful of green spaces.

Over 30 million people live in Jakarta and its larger metropolitan area today. Nearly all of the 13 rivers that criss-cross Jakarta are dirty and foul-smelling. Apartment buildings now tower where mangrove forests once stood. In nearby landfills, plastic is burned.

But why is Jakarta sinking? Sea levels are rising, and serious city planning has been absent for a long time. The city is mostly paved with asphalt and concrete, which means that water has nowhere to go during heavy rainfall. But Jakarta’s sinking has less to do with what happens above ground than what happens below.

Around half of Jakarta’s households are connected to the privatized piped water network, but others are forced to pump their water out of the ground by hand or with electric pumps. The continuous extraction of groundwater means that the land above it sinks.

“It’s like a quiet, very slow murder,” says urban planner Nirwono Joga, who advises the government of President Joko Widodo. “You do not even see the bottom sinking in most neighbourhoods. This happens so slowly that most of them are not aware of it.”

Large hotels, factories and shopping malls also have their own pump systems. “The problems are man-made and not nature’s,” Nirwono says.

For households that are neither connected to the water supply system nor able to pump, clean water has to be delivered by truck. This is the case for Irma’s family, whose two blue 250-litre tanks are located directly on the protective sea wall. Irma cooks, washes and bathes using the water. One hundred litres cost about one dollar – not an insignificant sum for Irma or her neighbours.

“None of us has a pump,” she says. “The water here is disgusting. Filters don’t help either.”

Jakarta’s sinking is visible in other areas. In the North Jakarta subdistrict of Penjaringan, houses that used to be at ground level are now about one metre lower. Residents who used to look down on the street from their homes now live below it.

“The last time I had a flood, water as high as 20 centimetres inundated the kitchen,” says Abdul Mukti, a Penjaringan resident.

Water is seeping from the ground in front of the 62-year-old’s salmon-coloured house, but he says has no intention of moving elsewhere and does not believe that the area could sink further.

“I’m not afraid,” he says. “Flooding is only a few days a year. The rest of the year I can live without problems.”

In the nearby neighbourhood of Akuarium, dozens of houses were demolished in 2016 because of flooding, but some residents have stayed put, making do with life in makeshift shelters.

The continual sinking is not for a lack of bold ideas among city leaders. After a major flood in 2007, the city commissioned a Dutch company to build a 57-kilometre seawall several kilometres offshore, and artificial islands called Kita (We), Maju (Progress) and Bersama (Together) have been built. But the houses built there are just as empty as the streets, and the island project has been dogged by corruption allegations.

The latest plan to address Jakarta’s sinking problem is perhaps the most ambitious yet: to build a whole new capital outside Java, some 1,200 kilometres from Jakarta.

Under the proposed plan, the new capital will be built in the jungles of Borneo island, somewhere halfway between the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.

The cost of the move to the new unnamed capital is estimated at more than 30 billion dollars. The first officials are scheduled to move into their new offices as early as 2024 – the last year of the president’s final term in office. Some Indonesians joke that the new capital should be named Jokograd, after the president.

Despite the national efforts, hardly anyone in the poor neighbourhoods along the protective walls is perturbed by the prospects of sinking.

“I know it costs a lot of money,” Irma says. “But if the government think it’s for the best, I have no problems. We are only small people.”

50 killed in Papua flash floods, landslides

At least 50 people were killed after flash floods and landslides hit the capital of Indonesia’s Papua province, officials said Sunday.

“There are 50 bodies at the hospital as a result of floods and landslides,” Papua police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said. 

Waters began inundating nine villages in Papua’s capital Jayapura late Saturday following heavy rain, said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho. 

More than 150 houses were submerged in the Sentani area, he added. 

A video released by the disaster agency showed a Twin Otter plane damaged after being swept away by floodwaters.

Sutopo said the scale of damage was still being assessed, but that waters had largely receded. 

“Rescue and recovery efforts are still being carried out while aid is being distributed,” he said.  

No signs of life as search goes on week after Indonesia mine collapse

Rescue workers have detected no signs of life as the search continued for dozens of people still buried after last week’s collapse of an unlicensed gold mine in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province, an official said Tuesday.  

Scores of miners were buried after a wooden platform they were using at the mine in Bolaang Mongondow district collapsed on February 26 due to unstable soil, officials said.

Searchers found four more bodies and body parts on Monday, bringing the confirmed death toll to at least 13, said Ferry Arianto, spokesman for the provincial search and rescue agency.

Twenty miners were rescued, but two of them died later, he said. It was not clear how many were still buried, with estimates ranging from 30 to 70. 

“We used a life sensor but there were no signs that any victims were still alive,” he said.  

“Only 20 families have so far come forward, because the workers came from outside the area and they didn’t know each other,”      

Deadly accidents in artisanal gold mines are not uncommon in Indonesia.  

There are at least 1,000 such mines across the archipelago, according the Indonesian People’s Mining Association.  

The United Nations Environmental Programme says artisanal and small-scale miners make up 90 per cent of the global gold mine workforce of about 15 million people.

Artisanal miners often work under dangerous conditions, with exposure to mercury used to extract gold from ore among the hazards, the UN said.  

Staying on the Job Eases the Pain, Cancer-Stricken Indonesian Official Says

The information chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency was upbeat on Monday as he described the details of a personal disaster – his battle with an advanced lung cancer.

In a country where volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and forest fires are frequent, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho’s job is considered stressful enough even for a healthy person.

But Sutopo has insisted on carrying on with his day-to-day duties, fielding phone calls and text messages from reporters, as well as hammering out lengthy press releases – often from a hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“When I work I forget all the pain, even more so when my press conferences are attended by many journalists,” Sutopo told BenarNews during a visit to his spacious office in Central Jakarta.

His desk is stacked with paperwork and books with themes ranging from disaster management to religion.

“But when I don’t do anything, just sitting, I feel excruciating pain. I can hardly sleep at night,” said Sutopo, who has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in less than a year.

Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January, doctors said Sutopo, 49, could survive up to three years with treatment. The diagnosis shocked the man who has led a healthy lifestyle, including abstaining from smoking.

“The first thing in my mind was my two children,” he said.

“But I have come to terms with it. What I’m experiencing now has been ordained by God. I just have to live with it,” said Sutopo, a devout Muslim. “I hope that any good deed that I’m doing will be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Sutopo said the cancer had spread to the bones in his back. He has to undergo a regular procedure to remove fluid and blood from his lungs.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

On the job

The year 2018 has been an especially busy one for Sutopo, as earthquakes devastated parts of Lombok and Sulawesi islands between July and September, killing more than 3,500 people.

He has had to write press releases and update his social media feeds from his hospital bed.

“I have written about 500 press releases this year, so it’s more than one press release a day,” he said.

A network of local disaster agency officials and volunteers across the country have helped Sutopo by sending information on casualties, aid needs and photos and videos from disaster zones.

“Many of the 3,000 reporters on my list told me that the information I gave them was more than they expected. I try to give them as much information as possible, including videos and photos, so they don’t have to ask more questions,” he said.

Sutopo has an undergraduate degree in geography from Gadjah Mada University and a doctorate in environmental management from the Bogor Agricultural University, but had no background in communications or the media when he took the job.

He started off as a civil servant at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, where he did research on hydrology and artificial rain. In 2010, Sutopo was assigned to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) as director of disaster risk mitigation, before taking the job as its head of information and public relations.

Warding off fake news

Apart from battling cancer, Sutopo said he often had to contend with sifting out fake content disseminated via social media.

Sutopo’s Twitter feed regularly debunks hoaxes and fake news circulating online about disasters, including videos of old volcanic eruptions being passed off as new, and chain messages that warn of impending earthquakes.

“As more and more Indonesians have access to the internet, fake news and hoaxes have become more prevalent in recent years,” he said. “They used to spread only via text messages, but now they become viral via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.”

Following a series of eruptions of the Mount Agung volcano on Bali island last year, alerts were raised to the highest level, leading many to put off traveling to Bali, where the economy depends on tourism.

“What I did was post photos showing people doing yoga or pre-wedding photos with erupting Mount Agung in the background, to show that Bali was safe, and only a small area was off-limits,” he said.

“People were scared because media reports made it as if that the whole of Bali was affected by the eruptions,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have also made it easier for him to spread awareness about disaster management, he said.

“Social media has been very effective in amplifying my messages,” said Sutopo, who has written several books about disaster management.

‘Undying spirit’

Sutopo recently benefitted from social media when he met one of his favorite singers.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #SutopoMeetRaisa to draw attention to his wish to meet the Indonesian pop star. The Jakarta Post reported that the pair met recently in a building where Sutopo had gone to do an interview and Raisa was promoting her new song.

Raisa told him to stay healthy and keep inspiring people, Sutopo told the newspaper.

Weeks earlier, Raisa responded to the hashtag with a tweet of her own, the Post reported.

“My Twitter today has #RaisaMeetSutopo all over it. I’ve read all the stories in your tweets, friends, and it made me feel like I’ve known Pak Sutopo for a long time. He’s loved by many. Keep your spirit and keep on inspiring, Pak Sutopo :)”

Sutopo also has the support of Indonesia’s leader.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called him an inspiration to the nation.

“I appreciate Mr Sutopo’s dedication. And I was made aware about his condition today. His dedication to his work is extraordinary,” Jokowi told reporters after a meeting with Sutopo in October.

“It’s really inspiring to us all that while he is in ill health, he has an undying spirit to do the work that he has been doing for years,” Jokowi said.

The story was first published on BenarNews 

Families of ill-fated Lion Air victims still hope for miracle as DNA tests underway

Toni Priyono Adhi still keeps alive his hopes that his daughter Puspita Eka Putri will pick up her phone and answer his calls, although deep down he knows that it is very unlikely.

Putri, who celebrated her 24th birthday in Oct 26, was one of the 189 people on board the Lion Air JT610 flight from Jakarta bound for Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Island which crashed Monday morning into the sea off Karawang in West Java, about 75 kilometers from Jakarta.

“I just keep praying for a miracle. We keep trying to call her and call out her name in case she replies,” Adhi told journalists at the police hospital in East Jakarta where body parts plucked from the crash site were taken and families of the victims are submitting ante mortem data for identification.

Adhi said it was Putri’s first business trip with a beauty products company, that she joined for a month. Her mother, who identified herself as Nuke, said it was Putri’s first flight by herself.

“We always took flights together. I always picked her up in her campus when she was in college. My daughter, she was really beautiful. God had entrusted her to me,” said a visibily shaken Nuke as she held up her daugther’s picture and kissed it.

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Nuke showed the photo of her daughter, Puspita Eka Putri at the police hospital in East Jakarta where she and her husband submitted ante mortem data for Putri’s identification on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

Imbalo Sakti remembers her brother-in-law, Capt. Musa Effendi as a kind-hearted man whom the family members looked up to.

Sakti said that Effendi, who worked as a portmaster in Muntok port on the western part of Bangka Island, was on his way for a meeting in Pangkal Pinang.

“He had traveled from Medan, North Sumatra, where he had attended a Quran recital in his hometown to give thanks for he and his wife’s safe return from the Hajj two months ago,” Sakti said.

Since there is no direct flight from Medan to Pangkal Pinang, which are about 1,000 kilometers apart, he had to fly to Jakarta and take a connecting flight to Pangkal Pinang.

“My daddy has been posted in Bangka Island for two years. He spent the night at a transit hotel in Jakarta’s airport and took the morning flight to Pangkal Pinang,” Effendi’s daughter Dwi Ratna said.

Anugrah Satria, a frequent Lion Air flyer, said he met Alfiani Hidayatul Solikah during his flights and became friends with the 19-year-old flight attendant.

“It was her first job and it was her wish to become a flight attendant. I met her on one of her first flights as a stewardess on a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta,” Satria said.

“She was always nice to passengers, and smiled a lot. She never complained about her job,” Satria said.

The captain pilot of the brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which had only 800 flying hours since its initial operation on Aug 15, was an Indian from New Delhi, Bhavye Suneja.

Media reports said he was a trainee pilot with Emirates before joining Lion Air in March 2011.

The Indian Embassy in Jakarta confirmed the pilot’s nationality in a tweet, saying that “most unfortunate that Indian Pilot Bhavye Suneja who was flying JT610 also lost his life…Embassy is in touch with Crisis Center and coordinating for all assistance.”

A number of Indonesian officials were also on board the flight, with the Finance Ministry having lost 21 officials, out of whom 12 were from the tax directorate general, who were on commuting back to their post in Pangkal Pinang.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani visited police hospital and met with the grief-stricken families of her staff on Monday night to console them.

The ministry’s head of communications, Nufransa Wira Sakti, said in a statement that they were officials at the ministry’s Pangkal Pinang office.

“They were heading back to their work after spending the weekend to attend a ministry event on Oct 27 and to attend a coordination meeting, while also spending the weekend with their families in Jakarta,” Sakti said.

Also among the victims were three police personnel from Bangka Belitung police, three staff from the oil and gas directorate general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, 10 staff from the State Audit Agency, six regional lawmakers of Bangka Belitung province, and four employees of the state-mining company, PT Timah.

Following the crash, Australia issued a warning to ban all Australian government officials and contractors from flying Lion Air or their subsidiary airlines and the decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear.

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Police forensic team lay out debris recovered from Lion Air JT 610 crash site at the Tanjung Priok port on Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 (Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata)

As of Tuesday afternoon, search efforts to collect debris from the plane are still under way with vessels sailing back and forth to Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port to drop bags containing plane debris and body parts the search and rescue teams collected from the crash site, while police forensic teams continued sorting out the debris and personal belongings of the passengers on the dock.

The search and rescue agency’s deputy director for operations, Nugroho Budi said they have sent 13 body bags to the police hospital from Tuesday’s operation and found 52 national identity cards.

“The search and rescue team will expand the search area to a radius of 15 nautical miles from the crash site,” Budi said in a press conference.

Head of medical and health of the national police, Arthur Tampi, said the forensic team had examined 24 body bags and identified 87 body parts.

Tampi added that they had not been able to identify any of the victims as they received only body parts and none of the bodies were intact.

“The bodies have deteriorated in pieces and some of the bones were loose. I even saw parts of an infant body in one of the body bags,” Ari Dono, deputy of the national police chief said after an inspection to the police hospital morgue.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

World’s fastest sinking city Jakarta to subside up to 2 meters in less than a decade

Jakarta city administration’s recent raid on 80 high-rise buildings along the Indonesian capital’s main business thoroughfare, which showed that 37 buildings are not equipped with infiltration wells and are alleged to have failed to comply with regulations on the use of groundwater, is another confirmation of what experts have warned that the city is well on its way to become an underwater metropolis.

The 2017 World Ocean Review, which was published in November last year in Berlin, reports that Jakarta is currently the fastest sinking city in the world, subsiding at a rate much faster than other coastal metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants in Southeast Asia such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Manila.

According to the report, Jakarta, which is partly built on peaty soils, is an “extreme example of a sinking city” with many of its high-rise buildings and the commercial center are sinking in the soft subsurface by up to 10 centimeters annually.

The abstraction of groundwater for drinking water supply is also contributing to this effect and it is feared that the sinking will accelerate. Groundwater normally acts as a natural abutment that counterbalances the weight of built-up areas bearing down on the substrate, while another factor that contributes to Jakarta land subsidence is compaction of the ground.

“Without countermeasures and a reduction of groundwater abstraction, by the year 2025 parts of Jakarta are likely to have sunk by a further 180 centimeters,” the World Ocean Review reports.

To come up with resolutions on how coastal metropolis can adapt to the land subsidence and sea level change, scientists at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) and University of Bremen’s Institute of Sociology in Germany are working on research projects in Jakarta, Singapore and Manila.

Chief sociologist Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge, who is one of the scientists behind the World Ocean Review, said they are seeking to find answers on how policies and standardized practices for living with sea level rise, which are communicated by international donors can be translated into local context and are politically legitimized.

“Our recent findings so far are that the relative sea-level change serves as a floating signifier to justify investment in infrastructure to transform the coastal areas and acculturation to living with water,” Hornidge told a group of international journalists during a visit to the institution in Oct. 2017.

The evil twin of global warming: ocean acidification

But sea level rise, which is rising by around 3 millimeters annually according to the World Ocean Review, is not the only problem faced by people living in coastal areas. Those that are driven by climate change, such as ocean warming and ocean acidification, are adding to the coastal inhabitants’ woes.

Ocean acidification or the rising acid in seawater because the ocean partly absorbs the carbon dioxide that humans pump into the atmosphere, poses another threat to ocean life and marine ecosystem, impairs life in the ocean, and compromises important ecosystem services it provides to humankind, such as fish, which serve as the primary source of protein for a billion people, mainly in developing countries, and the fisheries industry that provides jobs for millions of people, especially those living in coastal areas.

Scientists have coined the terms “the other carbon dioxide problem” or the “evil twin of global warming” for ocean acidification, which has increased by 30 percent since 1850, according to Dr. Ulf Riebesell, a marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in the northern German seaside town of Kiel.

Riebesell, who led more than 250 scientists from a network of 20 German research institutions to conduct an eight-year research on ocean acidification called Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (BIOACID), said the changes in seawater acid is happening 10 times faster than it would have been if it was happening due to natural process.

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Dr. Ulf Riebesell, a marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel explained about ocean acidification. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Findings of the research, which was conducted from 2009 to 2017, were presented at last year’s United Nations climate change conference COP23 in Bonn. Some of the findings show that many organism are able to withstand ocean acidification but may lose the ability if also exposed to other stressors such as warming, loss of oxygen or pollution. Ocean acidification and warming reduce the survival rates of some fish species’ early life stages, which will likely reduce fish stocks and yields. Climate change also alters the availability of prey for fish and as a consequence may affect their growth and reproduction.

Scientists involved in BIOACID research found that ocean acidification reduces the ocean’s ability to store carbon and will change the distribution and abundance of fish species. The change will have a significant impact on economic activities such as small-scale coastal fisheries and tourism. This calls for therefore, the scientists said it is crucial to consider ocean acidification and warming in fish stocks and marine areas management.

Hans-Otto Portner, co-coordinator of BIOACID and marine ecophysiologist at Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research said for scientists to be able to project the steady level of ocean acidification based on historical events would depend on political decisions.

“The oceans are warming, just like the rest of the planet. They are losing oxygen and acidifying. The overarching trend is marine life now is being depleted,” he added.

Riebesell said the global community needs to understand the many ways in which humans depend on the ocean and its services and it will be for humans’ own benefit if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced that it could limit global warming to less than 2 degree Celsius.

“The future of this planet depends on us. Wouldn’t it be a great achievement if the age of human dominance on earth goes down in history as an era of rethinking and changing behavior?” Riebesell added.

Portner said all countries need to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions drastically by the middle of the century if they want to meet the Paris climate targets.

“The current world climate report indicates that net-zero emissions are a precondition for limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. However, reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone may not be sufficient,” Portner said.

Coral reef restoration

Keeping global warming further down to below 1.2 degrees Celsius with limited concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions could help to preserve about half of the tropical coral reefs, the BIOACID research found, adding more attestation on how ocean acidification will impact humans.

“Coral reefs provide habitat for millions of species, coastal protection, revenues from tourism and biodiversity heritage for the future,” Riebesell said.

According to Marine Policy journal published in August 2017, coral reefs around the world is one of the most notable examples of nature-based tourism spurred by a single ecosystem, which attract tourists and generate revenues in 100 countries and territories, including Indonesia.

Coral reef tourism is estimated to generate roughly US$35.8 billion dollars globally every year or over 9 percent of all coastal tourism value in coral reef countries around the world. Indonesia ranked second among the 10 jurisdictions in the world that have the highest total reef tourism value, amounted to US$3,098 million annually, while neighboring Thailand and the Philippines ranked fourth and seventh, generating US$2,410 million and US$1,385 million per year respectively.

Dr. Sonia Bejarano, head of the reef systems workgroup at Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen, said coral reefs are biodiversity treasure in need of science for sustainability.

Bejarano and a group of scientists at ZMT has been conducting research projects on coral reefs in various parts of the world, including in Indonesia, where they found that a receding destructive fishing practice in an Indonesian marine park has led to a rise in herbivorous fish.

“There is a high social and economic dependence on coral reefs,” Bejarano said, adding that their research is directly applicable in coral reef restoration.

 

 

Indonesian braces for greater environmental damage as oil slick widens

Indonesian authorities have launched a massive cleanup operation off the coast of Balikpapan, the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, where an oil slick from a ruptured undersea pipeline has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, contaminating mangrove forest and marine life.

Satellite images from state space agency LAPAN showed in just two days since the initial oil slick was detected on Mar. 31, the spill has sprawled to 13,559 hectare on Apr. 2 from 12,987 hectare on the previous day.

According to the Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Ministry, by Apr. 5 the spill has sprawled to 20,000 hectares, Kompas newspaper reported.

“Now it would take months to recover from the environmental damage,” Arifsyah Nasution, a marine campaigner from Greenpeace Indonesia said.

Environmental activists in Balikpapan have team up to collect evidence and assess the environmental damage, which Nasution said the public can later use as a comparison to assessment made by government agencies.

Balikpapan city administration has declared a state of emergency as locals’ livelihoods suffer. The oil spill claimed the lives of five fishermen when it ignited on fire on Mar. 31 and killed at least an Irrawaddy dolphin, a rare and protected species.

State-owned oil company Pertamina, which at first denied the leak was its fault, acknowledged that the spill had come from its undersea pipelines, located 22 to 26 meters below the sea.

“The crude oil leaked from one of the pipelines that was dragged more than 100 meter from its location,” Yudi Nugraha, a spokesman for Pertamina operations in Balikpapan said.

The company said the steel pipelines, which distribute crude oil from the Lawe-Lawe Terminal to its refinery in Balikpapan are 20 years old and that only external forces can dragged them as far as 100 meter.

Greenpeace’s Nasution said the crisis could have been minimized if Pertamina had responded more quickly.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry said the likely culprit is a Panama-flagged coal ship that dropped its anchor in Balikpapan Bay, dragging one of the pipelines and causing it to rupture.

The ministry’s oil and gas director general Djoko Siswanto said ships are not permitted to drop anchor on that part of the bay where the pipelines are installed.

Environmental and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has dispatched ministry officials to Balikpapan, an oil and mining hub in the island of Borneo, to spearhead the cleanup effort and to assess the adverse impact on the bay’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Pertamina has deployed 15 cleaning vessels.

Siti Nurbaya said the ministry team will measure the length of the coastline impacted by the spill. They found that it has so far polluted 34 hectare mangrove wetlands in Kariangau village and 6,000 mangrove trees in another village.

“We have asked Pertamina to prioritize cleaning the oil slick in waters close to human settlements to get rid of the oil’s nauseating smell and other imminent health hazards,” Siti Nurbaya said.

The team also collected oil booms, or temporary floating barriers, from oil companies operating in the region to contain the oil spill and by late Wednesday, the team has collected up to 70 meter cubic oil slick.

“We are coordinating with the police, which will launch a criminal investigation into the case. The forestry ministry will assist in determining the loss suffered by locals and the compensation for those affected,” Rasio Ridho Sani, forestry ministry’s director general for law enforcement said.

Octavinus, a search and rescue official in Balikpapan said locals began to see oil slick floating on the waters on Mar. 31 midnight and it was sparked on fire before noon, burning two fishing boats.

An operation was immediately dispatched to rescue the fishermen and by Apr. 3,  Octavianus said they found one of the boats completely burned and all bodies of five fishermen killed in the fire.

“A coal barge with 20 crew on board was sailing by but the barge was only slightly damaged and the whole crew is safe,” he said.

The original story was published in Arab News