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Jan Lee headshot

Oil Spill in Singapore Strait Puts Endangered Turtles at Risk

Words by Jan Lee

Oil spill response companies are rushing to clean up a large oil spill in the Singapore Strait, off the coast of Indonesia, in the hope of stopping the oil slick before it reaches protected turtle nesting areas on Bintan Island, Indonesia.

On Jan. 2, an estimated 4,500 tons (or 33,000 barrels) of crude oil were spilled when the Libyan oil tanker Alyarmouk and a Singaporean cargo ship, Sinar Kapuas, collided approximately 11 nautical miles from the territorially-disputed shoreline of Pedra Branca, Indonesia, northeast of Singapore.

The accident has been classified as a major spill -- and one of the largest to have hit the area in years. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPAS) said that satellite images taken over the last few days did not find any evidence that the oil spill had reached the resort beaches of Bintan Island (which is also home to several rare species of turtles), but the agency has not ruled out the possibility that it would make landfall this weekend.

Bintan is known for its white sandy beaches and is considered a major tourist destination for eco tours. Resorts on the island have established protected areas for several species of sea turtles, all of which are considered endangered. Tours organized through the Eco-Tourism Venture Project and promoted by the island’s resorts help educate visitors about traditional communities on the island, as well as environmental concerns.

According to PT Bintan Resort Cakrawala, a subsidiary of Gallant Venture Ltd, the tourism also contributes to funding that goes back into the community through financial assistance, education and other community initiatives. The island is home to nesting areas for some of the world’s rarest turtles, including the hawksbill turtle and green turtle.

Two marine services companies began cleaning up the oil on Jan. 3, using dispersants, oil booms and skimmers to reduce the spread of the oil slick. Increased storm activity in and around the Singapore Strait is expected this weekend, which may interfere with cleanup and containment efforts.

MPAS oversees shipping traffic in the strait and has established contingency plans for oil spills. Still, records show that there have been more than 43 significant spills of 39 tons or more in the Strait since the 1960s. MPAS classifies spills greater than 70 tons as “major” events.  In the last year, there have been at lease four events that have resulted in spillage of oil or other contaminants off the coast of Indonesia’s islands.

Image of Bintan Island: Robert Lowe

Image of Singapore Strait: Jnzl's Public Domain Photos

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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