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Lacklustre response to oil spill raises serious concerns

The recent collision at Pasir Panjang Terminal caused a significant oil spill, impacting several beaches. Delays in deploying oil booms and discrepancies in response efforts highlight the inefficiency of current safety/environmental protocols. A public investigation is needed to address these critical issues.



The recent collision between a dredger and a bunker vessel at Pasir Panjang Terminal on 14 June resulted in a significant oil spill, affecting several beaches in Singapore.

The environmental impact has been severe, with oil washing up on shores, dead fish, oil-covered otters, and the tragic deaths of some rescued kingfishers.

While clean-up operations have been in full swing by authorities and supported by the well-meaning public, a critical question lingers: why was there a delay in deploying oil booms around Singapore shores to contain the spill?

Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) was alerted to the incident at 2:22 pm, only four minutes after the collision occurred, and attended to the oil spill within 11 minutes.

MPA said that it ensured no further leaks from the bunker vessel, which still had 400 tonnes of oil remaining in its tank, while the other half had leaked instantly into the sea.

Later that day, MPA published a press release stating that “some oil from the damaged cargo tank on board MARINE HONOUR spilled into the water. The affected cargo tank has been isolated and the spill contained.”

This press release gave the impression that the spill was insignificant and managed to prevent any environmental impact on the shores or waterways.

However, on Saturday morning, members of the public were shocked to see oil on the beaches of the East Coast and Sentosa.

Lack of immediate deployment of booms at beaches/waterway

Oil spills are environmental catastrophes that require immediate and decisive action to mitigate damage. The primary function of oil booms is to contain the spread of oil, limiting its impact on marine and coastal ecosystems.

Every minute of delay allows the oil to disperse further, making the clean-up process exponentially more challenging and causing greater harm to wildlife and habitats.

In a joint statement last Saturday (15 June), it was said that close to 1500 meters of container booms have been deployed, and more will be laid over the next few days to prevent the further spread of oil onto the shore and facilitate the recovery of the trapped oil off the affected shorelines and lagoons.

However, photos and videos on that morning showing the extent of oil staining the beaches indicate that no booms can be seen.

In fact, National Development Minister Desmond Lee mentioned on his Facebook page that NParks began deploying booms on Saturday, a day after the spill. The joint statement on 15 June also supports the narrative that the booms were not previously deployed.

It is uncertain if MPA informed NEA/Nparks to prepare for a possible spillage of oil from the incident the day before, as it allegedly did with Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC).

In this incident, the delay in deploying the booms arguably led to widespread contamination of several beaches, including Sentosa Island, East Coast Park, and Changi. The sight of dead fish, oil-covered otters, and the grim fate of kingfishers underscores the urgency that should have accompanied the initial response.

Number of response crafts deployed

In an Instagram reel on Wednesday, Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat outlined a timeline of the authorities’ response, noting that a patrol craft was deployed to spray oil dispersant at the oil spill.

Contrast that with MPA’s statement on 15 June, which stated, “16 oil spill response craft have been deployed to continue spraying oil dispersants and to collect the oil slicks on the water surface,” and then the joint statement from MPA and other agencies, which said 18.

Unless Mr Chee was wrong in his statement about the number of response craft, the immediate response taken to the oil spill was lacking compared to the 18 response craft on Saturday; by then, the oil spill had spread further due to the tide and current.

Furthermore, Mr Chee’s statement also does not shed light on what happened between the point of MPA’s claim of having the spill contained and when the authorities actually put up the booms to prevent further contamination of the beaches and waterways.

Did the authorities belatedly realize that the oil spill was much worse than they expected and react to the issue as they did rather than take preventive actions?

Videos of beaches on Saturday morning (15 June)

Are oil spill exercises just wayangs?

The oil spill of 400 metric tonnes pales in comparison to the scenarios MPA uses as a basis for their exercises on oil spills.

In 2022, MPA led a multi-agency Joint Oil Spill Exercise, including table-top exercises with government agencies and industry players on 3 October and a Seaward Exercise held on 7 October to test interagency coordination and response in handling oil spills at sea.

In that exercise, a simulated oil spill incident resulted from a “collision” between a tanker and a bulk carrier near the Raffles Reserved Anchorage.

The tanker, Asia Dawn (now named Abundance III), can carry over 2 million barrels worth of crude oil. The exercise was deemed a success, with the oil spill contained and no harm done to the environment.

Tanker, Asia Dawn used in MPA’s Joint Oil Spill Exercise 2022

However, when comparing this exercise to the real-life incident on 14 June, questions arise.

The tanker, Marine Honour, can carry 65,990 barrels of oil. In this incident, 400 metric tons (around 2,932 barrels) leaked from the tanker and were contained, but some oil still found its way to the beaches and waterways, leading to a prolonged clean-up process and lingering oil stains.

If we apply the parameters of the 2022 exercise, it is questionable whether the oil spill response team could have effectively handled an oil spill of the same magnitude, given that a spill of 91,740 barrels (12,503 metric tons)  would have been significantly larger — by a magnitude of over 30 times.

While the ministries and agencies have stated their efforts to address the issue in light of public scrutiny, the glaring issue remains: how did a relatively small oil spill have such a serious impact on the environment?

Where are the standard operating procedures for such incidents, especially when oil contaminates the soil?  Volunteers from all walks of life stepped up to help, but the agencies were unable to deploy them effectively.

Meanwhile, the cleanup work was limited to a handful of foreign workers hired by contractors. Some were equipped with personal protective equipment against the toxic oil residue, while others were not seen with any.

The public is rightfully questioning the efficacy of the safety/environmental protocols at the terminal and the broader preparedness of our authorities in handling such crises, given the number of oil tankers that ply Singapore’s shipping routes.

Perhaps a public investigation ought to be launched into this incident to understand how the small oil spill resulted in the environmental catastrophe we see today, as it has clearly shown that exercise success does not translate to real-life efficiency.

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One of the busiest maritime shipping hubs in the world. Has trouble dealing with a small oil spill.

Now imagine if one of those super-tankers had an incident. What is happening to the government under this ruling party? Complacency it seems.

Who exactly are they even hiring? Well, the more important question now is, who is getting fired?

Chee Hong is really a green horn minister.

Cocking up from simplygo fiasco to oil slick crisis.

Time to sack this incompetent chap.

We are monitoring the situation.

Nothing that PAP cannot defend.
Parliamentary statements resolves everything.
The ultimate, most exalted place…

PAP wins every single time.

One should look deeper into what may have given rise to that fatal and sudden collision which created the sticky mass that spread to our beloved beaches with massive cost to Singapore.Rember the President of Uriakian accused CCP China of usual it’s officials to persuade some countries not to attend the peace conference in Switzerland 15-16 June 2024.Most ASEAN countries with the exception of naughty Singapore didn’t attend.Comes 18th June Vox Maxima,the Netherlands flagged dredging vessel (owner unknown) experience a “sudden”loss of engine and steering control colliding with the stationary bunker vessel causing massive oil slick.If one were to connect… Read more »

PAP is very good at containing anything. They contain Covid 19 with no vax no work They contain news of philandering Speakers & MPs They contain news of corrupt Ministers They contain any notion of using privileged information for personal benefit. They contain names of people involved in shipyard bribery They contain any opinion with POFMA They even contain truth with LKY’s will using parliament All done with a very participative SPH, paid for by the citizens. ( dumb idiots too ) If all fails. they move from containment to detainment, and the preferred technique of citizens who are dumb… Read more »

When never before elements, of nature or not, came into contact and DISAGREEMENTS, conflicts – like trains came into contact, lessons PAP human gods or devils framed not as actual realistic events, under the MASSIVE MASSIVE NO BLAME CULTURE but washed as mundane or treated as CHILDS PLAY – the expected DOWNPLAYS exposed their Million Dollars Salaries FAKED TALENTS disastrously tell voters how the PAP Administration managed to escape lies after Lies after Lies, for… 50 years!

How come not a squeak nor meow from our disGrace Ful who is in charge of environment?

Gone for June school holidays!

Lawrence, can you do the needful to replace this incompetent and blurred CHT quickly?

Since coming on board to be $m minister, he has been boobooing and blundering all the way.

In SillyPore, it’s nigh on impossible to question, never mind, … go up against a government “who can do no wrong” or “tell no lies” and whom is “perfect and efficient in every way” !!!

Maybe they didn’t have enough booms and were waiting for delivery. It was the same for COVID when there was not enough masks and LHL and CCS said we didn’t need to wear masks to contain the virus. Later our Armed Forces released their one million stock for Public use. It could be the same here. Excellent reporting Terry 👍.