Singapore's oil spill incident: Govt expands clean-up effort to more areas, including eastern end of island

Oil sheen on the surface of the water between HarbourFront Centre and Sentosa at about 10.30am on Monday (June 17). - ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): The authorities here are expanding clean-up efforts to more areas following a major oil spill on June 14, with some oil leaking from a damaged cargo tank at Pasir Panjang Terminal having spread to the waters off Changi on Monday (June 17).

Some 1,500m of booms have been deployed so far to contain the oil spill, with an additional 1,600m to be deployed at several beaches on Sentosa Island and Labrador Nature Reserve by June 18, according to a joint statement by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, National Environment Agency (NEA), National Parks Board, national water agency PUB, Sentosa Development Corporation and Singapore Food Agency on June 17.

Booms will be placed off Changi East as a preventive measure.

“Some of the oil has been seen off Changi today,” the joint statement said, adding that oil absorbent booms have been deployed off biodiversity-sensitive areas at Chek Jawa Wetlands at Pulau Ubin, Coney Island Park and Pasir Ris Park as preventive measures.

At the Southern Islands, booms will be installed at selected locations at Cooper Channel to facilitate clean-up of accumulated oil.

While West Coast Park is not affected, oil-absorbent booms were also deployed at the park to protect the mangroves at the Marsh Garden, the statement said.

Workers taking part in the oil spill clean-up at East Coast Park on June 16. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUANWorkers taking part in the oil spill clean-up at East Coast Park on June 16. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

“Over the next few days, additional containment and absorbent booms will be deployed to protect the fish farms at the East Johor Strait and also Chek Jawa Wetlands and Changi Creek,” the statement said.

According to the statement, a Current Buster system, a specialised oil floating containment and recovery device deployed from vessels, will be used on June 18 off the Changi Exhibition Centre as a pre-emptive measure.

Each system consists of a boom with a skirt that extends below the water surface to enclose and collect the oil on the water’s surface.

Mr Muhammad Nasry, executive director of the Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, said it is worrying to hear that the oil slick has reached Changi, since the area is where a number of sensitive habitats are located.

Chek Jawa is home to mangrove, mudflat and seagrass habitats. Oil slicks can block light from reaching seagrasses, which require sunshine to photosynthesise. Seagrasses are also known to lose chlorophyll – the compound in plants that enable them to convert sunshine to nutrition – when exposed to chemical pollutants, he said.

Vessels towing a Current Buster system to capture oil off Labrador Nature Reserve on June 17. - PHOTO: MPAVessels towing a Current Buster system to capture oil off Labrador Nature Reserve on June 17. - PHOTO: MPA

Mr Nasry added: “If oil is deposited onto a sandy shoreline, the oiled-up sand can be scooped up easily. But in mangrove habitats, if the oil goes in, it’s not going to come out easily.”

Mr N. Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at NUS, said the movement of oil towards Singapore’s eastern waters was expected, given the current south-west monsoon season with winds blowing from the south.

“This is still disconcerting. We are certainly hoping that the volume of oil has already been significantly reduced by the clean-up teams who are working hard to remove it.”

Mr Sivasothi added that the Government has practised mitigation protocols for such an eventuality and it is encouraging to hear that these have been activated.

“The early deployment will certainly help protect sensitive biodiversity areas and fish farms in the eastern Johor Strait,” Mr Sivasothi said.

On June 14, Netherlands-flagged dredger Vox Maxima hit a stationary Singapore-flagged bunker vessel, Marine Honour, at Pasir Panjang Terminal. The dredger had suffered a sudden loss of engine and steering control.

The impact created a rupture in one of the oil tanks of Marine Honour, causing oil to leak into the sea.

The air quality at affected areas around Sentosa, East Coast Park and Labrador Nature Reserve is well within “safe levels” so far, according to the statement.

NEA has been conducting daily air quality tests at these areas since June 15 to ensure the safety of the public and personnel involved in clean-up operations.

The agency has also been monitoring ambient levels of volatile organic compounds at various locations in Singapore. No anomalies have been detected, it added.

The public is advised to avoid swimming at Changi Beach, or engage in other water activities there until further notice.

To facilitate clean-up efforts, the following beaches will be closed until further notice.

- Beaches at East Coast Park (from Area B to H)

- Labrador Nature Reserve (Jetty and Rocky Shore)

- Sentosa beaches remain open to public, but sea activities and swimming are not allowed at the Tanjong, Palawan and Siloso beaches

- Beaches at the St John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu islands

- All other areas at both East Coast Park and Labrador Nature Reserve, including F&B establishments, remain open. - The Straits Times/ANN

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