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Transport Minister’s explanation for oil spill response delay fails to convince

As Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat attempted to explain why MPA did not inform the public of the oil spill on 14 June, his clarifications only raised more questions, especially regarding the delayed deployment of containment booms despite monitoring with drones and vessels.



During a press conference on Monday regarding the oil spill resulting from the collision of two vessels at Pasir Panjang Terminal on 14 June, Justin Ong from Channel News Asia questioned the initial press release by the Marine Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

On 14 June, MPA issued a press release stating, “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.”

It added, “MPA, PSA, and the bunker vessel company have activated oil spill response craft to the location. The oil spill clean-up operation is currently in progress.”

Ong pointed out that this first press release did not provide information about the possible spread of oil, which led to the public being surprised by the oil washing ashore on Saturday. He asked, “So why was there no information about this at first?”

It was only on 15 June, after the oil reached the beaches at Sentosa, East Coast, and other parts of the waterway, that MPA released another press release. This statement indicated that MPA had alerted various waterfront facilities, including Sentosa Development Corporation and the port terminals, to monitor for oil sightings and conduct clean-up operations if necessary.

In response to Ong’s question, Transport Minister Mr Chee Hong Tat said:

“I think on the day itself, MPA did issue a media release to explain that there was this collision and oil spill. The immediate response was to ensure we could deal with it effectively. First, to stop any further spillage from the damaged vessel, because continuous large amounts of oil would worsen the situation. Ensuring the vessel’s safety and stopping further leakage was the priority.”

“We quickly sprayed dispersant because delaying would harden the oil, making it harder to remove. After the initial operations, we activated T&T Salvage to lay containment booms.”

“On the first day, the oil was floating away from the incident site, making it unclear where it would go. MPA alerted our agencies, deployed staff to monitor the situation with vessels and drones, and track the oil’s direction to deal with it at sea and on land. SDC (Sentosa Development Corporation) spotted oil sheens on the evening of 14 June and took measures to address the situation.”

Ong also asked about the deployment of containment booms, and Mr Chee explained that the timing was within industry standards but acknowledged the need for improvement in response times for such spills.

Mr Chee had earlier shared that the first MPA patrol craft arrived 11 minutes after the incident at 2:33 pm to spray dispersants in the water.

At 2:55 pm, MPA contacted T&T Salvage Asia to deploy containment booms around the damaged bunker vessel.

However, the team from T&T Salvage required several hours to load the heavy equipment and additional time to sail to the site, arriving at 9:41 pm. They completed laying 200m of booms around Marine Honour at 5:15 am on 15 June – nearly 15 hours after the incident.

Mr Chee explained that the deployment process can be time-consuming due to various factors, such as weather conditions and the logistical challenge of handling a spill of this scale.

He added that containment booms are not intended to fence in the spilled oil but to prevent further leakage and to track and manage the oil downstream at other locations.

Despite Mr Chee’s various clarifications, many questions remain. Rather than providing an explanation for why MPA failed to disclose information about the oil spill to the general public, Mr Chee seemed to have conflated the response measures taken by MPA after the incident.

Monitor but do nothing?

Given that Mr Chee said that MPA monitored the oil spill situation with vessels and drones, shouldn’t containment booms have been deployed to protect the beaches and waterways in the direction the oil was heading? From the public records, it would be clear that the booms were deployed only after the oil hit the beaches on Saturday morning, even though the incident occurred in the afternoon the day before while there was still daylight.

Mr Chee mentioned that SDC took measures to deal with the oil spill, but videos of the beach at Sentosa on Saturday morning did not show containment booms deployed or personnel managing the situation.

Although Mr Chee tried to reason that it would take more than 46 km of booms to deploy along the entire southern coastline from Pasir Panjang to East Coast, if MPA was monitoring the oil spill with vessels and drones, couldn’t it have deployed the booms where they were needed, just as booms were deployed after the beaches were contaminated?

Considering the above points, would it be fair to ask if MPA’s actions (or inactions) allowed the oil spill to contaminate the beaches?

Why did it take so long?

As for the containment booms, 200 metres were deployed by T&T to fence up the oil spill around the vessel, and eventually, a total length of 3,400 meters of booms was deployed to protect the shores. Clearly, the containment booms work, which is why agencies were scrambling to deploy them.

So the question remains: why did it take the contractor seven hours to reach the oil spill site and then another seven hours to deploy just 200 metres of boom?

While Mr Chee states that it takes several hours for a containment boom vessel to arrive and deploy in other countries, the time taken is largely due to the distances involved from the port to the site of the spill.

In contrast, Singapore is only 49 km from east to west. Furthermore, the location was at Pasir Panjang Terminal, which is in the middle of the island. It is unknown where T&T Salvage parked their boats, but assuming their boats are near their office, it would be less than 30 km of traveling distance to the oil spill site. So why the delay?

In the Joint Oil Spill Exercise (JOSE) held in October 2022 to test inter-agency coordination and response in handling oil spills at sea, it was stated that these exercises enabled participants to step through various scenarios and their impacts so that agencies could respond timely and effectively during a major oil spill. Using a tanker with a capacity 30 times that of Marine Honour, which leaked 400 metric tons of oil, the exercise was conducted without any issues.

So, given what we see as a perfect exercise on paper and the disastrous reality of the oil spill, can we really trust that the authorities are ready when the button is pressed?

Ultimately, what we might be seeing here as MPA’s Standard Operating Procedure is that T&T is not obligated or cannot be faulted for providing a real-time response to the oil spill, while the government agency absolves itself of responsibility because it relied on its contractors to deal with the problem.

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Standing firm on his narrative, … this Dick has dug an almighty hole for himself that should he get away with it, which is highly likely, … given that this is SillyPore, he’ll forever be remembered for this f**k up and right minded SillyPoreans should not let him forget this !!!

Just like the oil spill, … DickChee is drifting further and further from the truth !!!

And again, just like the oil in all of this, … DickChee is slippery, dark, foul smelling, annoyingly sticky and slimy, and most definitely, … not transparent !!!

Perhaps like all government agencies, the scholars running MPA are clueless as to what they should do. Often hiding behind others so as not to take the hit. Furthermore, perhaps they are waiting for further instructions from higher authority like the Transport Minister.
Why take initiative when they may come back to haunt you especially when everyone knows, the buck doesn’t stop at the Ministerial level. Enough examples seen at the various government agencies, the last being LTA and now MPA.