Indonesia Declares a State of Emergency

Luisa E. Chainferber

Staff Writer

After an oil spill occurred in the Indonesian port city of Balikpapan, President Abdurrahman Wahid declared a state of emergency, reports BBC. The oil may contaminate fishing waters near the island of Borneo.

Five fishermen died and hundreds of more people have suffered from health issues such as difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting, says BBC. As the oil continues to spread, the Balikpapan environmental agency requested that locals refrain from any activity that could spark fires.

Pertamina, a state-owned fossil fuel corporation, first denied any responsibilities for the oil spill and declared its underwater pipelines had not leaked, as the BBC reports. However, the company later admitted its pipe did indeed fracture and retracted its original position. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported 69,300 cubic meters of crude oil were collected on April 3, but long-term consequences for the environment are still uncertain.

According to CNN, Greenpeace condemned Pertamina’s attitude towards the oil spill, and a spokesman declared that “[it] is a shameful manner at the beginning Pertamina has denied the truth that leaked oil in the area origins from their underwater pipeline. We urge Indonesian National Police to continue the investigation to determine (the) main causes of leakage.” Greenpeace also recommended that the Indonesian government develop strategies to alleviate the impact of similar occurrences.

Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya made a request to Pertamina, asking the fossil site to help contain the oil spread and to assist community members. While he recognized the company was late in its public announcement about the oil’s source, Nurbaya affirmed the government is conducting investigations to determine what company owns the vessel that allegedly broke Pertamina’s pipeline. He also said vessel owners may be charged for the deaths caused, reports business insider.

Oil companies and government agencies cooperated on April 2, trying to hold back the roughly 70 cubic meters of spilled oil. After two days, Siti Nurbaya Bakar stated that thick masses of oil are already less severe than days prior, despite his own ministry statement that oil previously covered about 13,000 hectares.

The government claims Pertamina is not responsible for the event. Oil and Gas director-general Djoko Siswanto identified a coal ship with a Panama flag as the source of the oil spill. In order to support the theory that the oil spill was caused by a foreign coal vessel, Siswanto argued “[the] pipe was allegedly dragged by an anchor dropped by a vessel, though no vessel was permitted to drop anchor or even pass through the bay.”

A presidential issue of a state of emergency permits the use of government funds to contain the spill and conduct clean-up operations. Nonetheless, the Guardian reports that both the military and the Jakarta police commander refused to obey the presidential emergency decree.

Amien Rais, the speaker of Indonesia’s People’s Consultative Assembly, questioned if the president has enough authority to promulgate state of emergency, and declared that Wahid’s ongoing impeachment process will continue, “It’s a foregone conclusion that Mr. Wahid will be dismissed as president and [Vice President] Megawati [Sukarnoputri] will become the new president.”

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