Award Banner
Award Banner

Oil spill incident: Next phase of cleanup to take around 3 months, affected public areas to reopen progressively afterwards

Oil spill incident: Next phase of cleanup to take around 3 months, affected public areas to reopen progressively afterwards
It may take about three months for the next phase of the oil spill clean-up to be completed before water activities are allowed again, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu at a joint press conference with Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat and National Development Minister Desmond Lee.
PHOTO: AsiaOne

Since an oil spill incident on the southern coast of Singapore halted all sea activities, water sports operator Ninja Kayaker and Foilers has had to postpone three classes. 

It hasn't received any new bookings either "because people know they can't use the [water]," founder Clarence Chua told AsiaOne, adding that "those who have already booked may also seek a refund". He charges $700 for each class, which accomodates five to six people.

But while the cleanup operation is progressing well, Chua may have to stick it out a little bit longer.

That's because the next phase of the cleanup will take around another three months, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said in a joint press conference on Monday (June 24) with the Transport and National Development ministries.

The oil spill occurred at Pasir Panjang Terminal on June 14 due to a collision between a dredging boat and a bunker vessel, which saw 400 tonnes of fuel pour into the sea. This affected shorelines around Singapore such as Sentosa, Labrador Nature Reserve, the Southern Islands and East Coast Park, among other areas, The Straits Times reported.

The first phase of the cleanup, which focused on removing the oil from the sea and affected beaches, as well as deploying booms to avoid further contamination, has made "good progress" and is "nearing completion", Fu said.

"We expect to take around three months to complete this next phase of cleaning, after which we will progressively reopen affected public areas. For less affected areas, we hope to open earlier," she added.

"We will resume sea activities only when the water quality is assessed to be safe for primary contact activities. For biodiversity sensitive sites, we will need more time for assessment of impact to wildlife."

The next phase, which involves the cleaning up of oil remnants in places that are harder to reach, has already begun on June 21 - with the rock bunds at Siloso beach, where oil that may have seeped into boulder crevices will be flushed out, according to the joint media statement. 

Similar operations will be carried out at Sentosa Cove, Labrador Nature Reserve and East Coast Park, and various cleaning methods will be experimented with to find the most suitable ones for respective sites.

For Sentosa's Tanjong and Palawan beaches, which were more heavily impacted, specialised cleanup is expected to take around three months.

Efforts are also underway to monitor longer-term impact to biodiversity for specific, more sensitive sites.

Businesses affected

With sea activities and swimming banned, some businesses have been adversely affected, specifically those that operate on beach waters, Fu said.

Listing kayak and inflatable rentals as examples, she said that these businesses "will not be able to operate those activities until the cleaning operation is done".

Fu noted that there are also businesses which have been affected due to the "perception of the smell and the oil spill", but they are recovering. 

"In fact, I was there on Saturday and found that Singaporeans were back, and were barbecuing along the beach front,” she added.

"We seek the understanding of members of the public and businesses affected by this incident, as we need time to recover safely. We are aware that businesses operating sea-based activities in the affected areas have been directly affected. As the situation is evolving, agencies are closely monitoring the impact on affected businesses."

Although Ninja Kayaker and Foilers' Chua is confident that his business would stay afloat, he admitted that the times ahead will be "very troublesome" if the current situation drags on for more than a few weeks.

He explained: "We won't get any income from water sports, so that's a cause for concern."

Likening this situation to the Covid-19 period where certain businesses required assistance from the government, Chua said it "would be nice" if it could do the same for water-based businesses now.

Final phase: Removal of tar balls

The third and final phase of the clean-up operation involves the removal of tar balls.

"We will comb the beach and remove tar balls - small blobs of coagulated oil - in the sand," Fu said, adding that the process will be conducted with volunteers utilising rakes and sieves instead of shovels to avoid removing too much uncontaminated sand.

By getting help from volunteers, the team can free up specialised cleaners who can then focus on more difficult cleans.

In reply to a question by AsiaOne on whether tar balls have any impact on the health or environment, Fu said: "Actually, they're very small in size - the largest patch will probably be nail-sized."

She explained that experts have told her the oil coagulates due to the heat from the sun and mixes with sand, hardening as a result.

"We think that by that time, we can actually use a sieve to sieve them out... I will personally go down and try this out as well," the minister added.

ALSO READ: Oil spill incident: Containment efforts progressing well, says cleanup company

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.