30 October 2010

Oil spill exercise near Cyrene

Yesterday an oil spill exercise (JOSE 2010) was conducted just off Terumbu Pandan aka Cyrene Reef.
The scenario for the table top exercise was a collision involving an oil tanker with 62,000 tons of crude oil resulting in a spill of 4,500 tonnes, more than two Olympic-sized pools in size. This is nearly twice the amount that was said to be spilled in the May collision at Changi East.

In the exercise, the response was for MPA to deploy aircraft fitted with aerial dispersant spraying system to combat the spill. The spill response teams also demonstrated the deployment of equipment such as oil containment booms around the tanker to prevent further escape of oil. As well as the recovery of oil by specialized skimmers.

A photo of dispersant being sprayed from a boat was also included in one of the media reports on the exercise.
The aim of the exercise was to familiarise responding agencies on oil spill contingency plans. Over 150 personnel from 14 government agencies participated in the exercise. The exercise was also observed by over 60 international participants of the Singapore International Bunkering Conference.

The main exercise participants were:
a. MPA
b. National Environment Agency
c. MINDEF (MJOC)/SAF
d. Singapore Police Force/PCG
e. Singapore Civil Defence
f. PUB
g. National Parks Board (NParks)
h. Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA)
i. Housing and Development Board
j. Singapore Land Authority
k. Sentosa Development Corporation
l. JTC Corporation
m. Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
n. Building and Construction Authority

Other information included the revelation that it cost $7 million to clean up the oil May oil spill at Changi East. The companies that own the ships will have to bear this cost.

Full media reports on wildsingapore news.

Last month Transport Minister Raymond Lim told Parliament that various agencies were finalising their investigations into the oil spill. Information provided in the media includes:
  • 2,500 tonnes of light crude oil was spilled
  • National Environment Agency and other agencies used a combination of oil dispersants, absorbent materials, non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning agents and vacuum suction trucks to clean up the oil spill. More than 495 workers were mobilised.
  • "while some marine life at Changi Beach were affected, the damage was not extensive."
  • "There was also "minimal immediate impact" to coastal and marine life in Chek Jawa because the National Parks Board (NParks) had deployed protective oil booms."
Full text of the Minister's statement in response to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah) is below from Hansard, the Singapore Parliament website.

OIL SPILL OFF EAST COAST

9. Mr Christopher de Souza asked the Minister for Transport (a) for an update on (i) the cause of the oil spill off the East Coast of Singapore and (ii) the extent of damage it has caused to Singapore's marine and coastal life; and (b) what measures have been and will continue to be taken to mitigate the damage

The Minister for Transport (Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat): Mr Speaker Sir, on the morning of 25th May 2010, MPA detected that a bulk carrier and an oil tanker were approaching dangerously close to each other in the eastern end of the Singapore Strait. In spite of MPA’s repeated warnings, both vessels unfortunately collided 13 kilometres southeast of Changi East. The oil tanker sustained damage to one of its cargo tanks, resulting in an estimated 2,500 tonnes of crude oil being spilt into the sea.

Upon notification of the incident, MPA immediately dispatched emergency response crafts which arrived at the affected area within 40 minutes. Containment booms were deployed around the tanker to contain the oil spilling from the vessel and chemical dispersants were used to break down the spilt oil.

To supplement these efforts at sea, an inter-agency effort was simultaneously launched to protect our coastline from the oil spill. MPA deployed additional booms near to shore and alerted waterfront facilities that were at risk of being affected by the spill. Oil booms were also deployed by NParks to protect Chek Jawa while AVA loaned and helped to install canvas skirting at our fish farms in the East Johor Straits to act as barriers to the oil slick. Our agencies monitored the situation round-the-clock, including air quality at our beaches given reports of a petroleum-like smell.

As the oil spill could affect Malaysian and Indonesian waters, MPA promptly notified the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities of the incident. We also provided Malaysia and Indonesia with regular updates and offered to assist in their response efforts. This was in line with an existing trilateral arrangement among the littoral States on combating oil spills in our region.

Our agencies did all that they could to contain the oil spill out at sea, but the unfavourable wind and tidal conditions caused the oil slick to reach our shores on the morning of 26th May 2010. NEA and other agencies immediately began cleaning operations on-shore, using a variety of means including the use of oil dispersant, absorbent materials, non-toxic and bio-degradable cleaning agents, vacuum suction trucks and the removal of crude oil-contaminated sand. In total, more than 495 workers were mobilised for the beach clean-up. Through these efforts, East Coast Beach and Changi Beach were re-opened for water activities on 4th June 2010.

NParks has assessed that there was minimal immediate impact to the coastal and marine life in Chek Jawa. Some marine life was affected at Changi Beach but the damage was not extensive. Nevertheless, NParks and NEA are working with NUS on an impact assessment and monitoring study which will cover short-term impact as well as the long-term recovery of coastal and marine bio-diversity at these areas.

Our agencies have gathered a number of valuable lessons from this oil spill. While we have in place adequate resources to combat an oil spill of this magnitude or indeed even one of a much larger scale, our containment efforts at sea will always face the challenge of factors that are beyond human control such as weather and tidal conditions. What is important is that our agencies do their utmost to minimise the incidence of oil coming on-shore; and if it still does, to ensure a quick response to clean it up. I am heartened to note that the relevant agencies are exploring new technology to expedite the containment and clean-up efforts.

Mr Speaker, Sir, our agencies did a good job in combating this oil spill. MPA is finalising its investigation into the collision to determine the exact cause of the incident. Nonetheless, I am confident that the lessons learnt from this experience will allow us to be even better prepared for any future incidents.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah): Thank you, Minister for your comprehensive reply, and thank you to MPA, NEA and NParks for containing this in such an expeditious manner. Two suggestions for the Minister's consideration: Firstly, going forward, is there any way the community can get involved, for example, if it is non-toxic clean-up on the beach? This will promote a green outlook on life, especially among the young. Secondly, would NEA be able to share its findings with the community, for those who are green-minded?

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: NEA will consider the two suggestions, ie, to mobilise volunteers to help if there is such an incident in the future and whether some of these findings of the post-disaster study can be shared with the environmental groups.

More about the oil spill on this blog and on the Oil spill facebook page.

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