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Large oil spill off Borneo coast ignites and kills at least four [Updated]

03 April 2018

An Indonesian oil company has denied responsibility for a 4km-long oil slick off the coast of Borneo, which appears to be spreading and contaminating new stretches of coastline and local fisheries. At least four fishermen died in Balikpapan Bay on March 31 when part of the slick ignited. A fifth fisherman is missing.

Stock image
Stock image

The general manager of the nearby Pertamina Unit V Refinery said the company's divers had not been able to find any pipeline leaks, and that the spill had nothing to do with its refinery or undersea pipeline.

Fishermen in the town of Balikpapan, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, said they would hold a protest on April 4 over the lack of responsibility shown by the Indonesian Government and the state-owned oil company Pertamina.

The fishermen and environmentalists were sceptical about Pertamina's claim it was not responsible for the slick, given the proximity of the slick to the pipeline.

On April 2, officials in Balikpapan declared a state of emergency over the spill. According to the Jakarta Post, city officials warned residents to be extra careful when spending time at affected beaches near Balikpapan Bay, adding that they should not smoke near the area for fear of igniting the oil.

The city has also distributed masks to protect local residents from the smell of fuel and 1,200 people have complained of nausea and breathing problems after the incident.

The Semayang Port Authority is coordinating with private oil company PT Chevron Indonesia and state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina to clean up the spill.

Update: On April 4, Pertamina said that it had determined that the leak had come from one of its undersea crude oil pipelines, local media said. A Pertamina spokesman said that the company was still calculating how much crude had leaked into the sea.

"When the leakage was first detected, we closed the distribution line of crude oil from Lawe-lawe to Balikpapan straightaway to prevent it from getting worse," spokesman Togar MP said, according to the Jakarta Post.

Indonesian media reports had previously quoted Pertamina as denying wrongdoing, saying that tests of the waters from the bay had determined that the substance was marine fuel oil, not the crude which is carried in its pipelines in the area.

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