Major oil spills in the Straits of Singapore



The Straits of Singapore lies between Singapore and the Riau Archipelago, Indonesia, and links the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea. It is approximately 113 km long and 5 to 12 km wide, although its narrowest navigable width is 2.9 km.1 It is on the shipping route of the Asia Pacific region, linking East Asia to Europe.2 This makes it one of the busiest sea lanes in the world3 hence, highly vulnerable to oil spills.4 Furthermore, besides being one of the world’s busiest container ports, Singapore is also a marine bunking centre, as well as an oil refining centre with a high volume of marine trade and shipping traffic daily.5 According to the 1999 Oil Spill Intelligence Report, the Straits of Singapore is considered to be one of the world’s hot spots for oil spills. Since 1960, Singapore and Malaysia together have suffered 39 spills totalling at least 34 tonnes.6

Recognising the high vulnerability of the Straits to incidents leading to oil spills and subsequent pollution of surrounding waters and shores, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has put in place a comprehensive system to ensure navigational safety in the Straits. This is to minimise marine accidents and oil pollution.7 One such measure is the Traffic Separation Scheme, which ensures that ships travelling within a common lane move together in the same direction.8

Singapore has also implemented the Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea Act (Chapter 243) and the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act, in its commitment to prevent and combat oil pollution.9 The former legally prohibits ships, land and apparatus from discharging pollutants into the sea by imposing fines on errant entities.10 Likewise, the latter sets out the rights and liabilities of those involved in oil pollution.11 Besides these two Acts, there is an Oil Spill Contingency Plan, where exercises are conducted annually, and the Marine Emergency Action Procedure, which enhances the country’s operational readiness to respond to any marine emergency or accident.12

At the regional level, Singapore works closely with Indonesia and Malaysia to prevent and control marine pollution. The Revolving Fund, for instance, was established in 1981 for use in combating oil pollution caused by ships. The Revolving Fund Committee has a standard operating procedure for joint oil spill combat in the Straits.13

Major spills
According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited, a non-profit organisation dealing with oil and chemical spills, oil spills that exceed 700 tonnes can be categorised as large spills.14 The following are some of the major oil spills that have occurred in the Straits.

1972: In June, the Shell super tanker, Myrtea, ran aground half-mile west of Pulau Bukom. An estimated 1,000 tonnes of crude oil was leaked into the sea from a damaged tank. This caused a two-mile long oil slick to form, which was carried by strong currents toward the shores of mainland Singapore. This slick eventually washed up on the beaches of Bedok, Changi, Loyang and Tanah Merah.15

1975: In January, about 3,300 tonnes of crude oil were spilled when a Japanese super tanker, Showa Maru, ran aground off Pulau Sebarok.16 The ensuing oil spill polluted the waters around Sentosa and other offshore islands of Singapore.17 The owners and liability insurers eventually paid S$3.8 million in claims to Singapore, S$2.9 million to Indonesia and S$1.3 million to Malaysia.18

1987: In July, a Liberian-registered tanker, Stolt Advance, ran aground about 4 km southeast of St John’s Island. The oil spill polluted the shoreline stretching from Tanjong Rhu to the reclaimed land off Changi, and affected fish farms killing thousands of fish and crustaceans. The cost of the clean-up was estimated to be S$1.4 million.19 Another tanker, the Libyan-registered Elhani, ran aground about 7.5 km southeast of the Raffles Lighthouse in the same month, spilling more than 2,300 tonnes of crude oil. The oil polluted the shorelines of East Coast and stretched from Tanjong Rhu to Tanah Merah.20 The owners and liability insurers of Elhani had to pay S$2 million in claims.21

1996: In August, Song San, a Singapore-registered tanker, dumped oil into the sea and was fined S$400,000.22 The oil polluted the three main beaches of Sentosa – Central, Tanjong and Siloso – forcing all beach activities at the popular tourist attraction to be cancelled.23

1997: In October, Thai-registered crude-oil tanker Orapin Global collided with Cyprus-registered tanker Evoikos about 5 km south of the Singapore Port Limit.24 28,463 tonnes of oil spilled from Evoikos, which had been broken up by the collision. The MPA, together with the Ministry of the Environment, Singapore Civil Service Defence Force and Singapore Armed Forces, tried to contain the massive spill.25 The government had to seek emergency aid from the Japanese government, which despatched a Japan Disaster Relief Team of six members. The disaster ravaged mangrove forests and coral reefs in the vicinity of Raffles Lighthouse.26 The waters west of Singapore, around Pulau Bukom, Senang, Pawai and Sudong, were described as a sea of black coffee, with greasy patches as wide as 50 m in some parts.27 The oil slick also washed up at Pulau Sabarok and Pulau Nantu.28

2000: In October, about 7,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilled when a Panama-registered vessel, Natuna Sea, ran aground off Batu Berhanti Beacon, just 8 km from Sentosa.29 The oil washed up on the beaches of Sentosa, St John’s Island and Pulau Sekijang.30

2010: In May, a Malaysian-registered tanker, MT Bunga Kelana 3 and St Vincents, collided with Grenadines-registered bulk carrier, MV Waily, about 13 km from Changi’s shore, spilling about 2,500 tonnes of crude oil into the waters near Changi.31 Patches of oil and sheen were seen at Changi Naval Base, affecting part of the coast between Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and the base. The oil slick also affected the coast between the National Sailing Centre and NSRCC-Safra Resort, stretching 7.2 km from East Coast Park’s Big Splash water park to Changi. The slick reached the Chek Jawa wetlands on Pulau Ubin and Changi Beach as winds and tides pushed it into the northeastern waters of Singapore.32

2014: In January and February, three ship collisions occurred, causing a total of 760 tonnes of fuel oil to be spilled into Singapore waters and polluting the beach waters of Kusu and St John’s Island within two months. Hong Kong-flagged chemical tanker Lime Galaxy and China-flagged container ship, Feihe, collided around 2.7 km south of Jurong Island. Panama-flagged container ship NYK Thermis and Singapore-registered barge AZ Fuzhou collided at the East Keppel Fairway about 4 km south of Marina South. Liberia-flagged container ship, Hammonia Thracium and Panama-flagged chemical tanker, Zoey collided about 10 km south of mainland Singapore.33



Authors

Jenny Kiong & Kartini Saparudin



References
1. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (2016). Straits of Singapore. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/places/details/74
2. Beckman, R. C., Grundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Durham: International Boundaries Research Unit, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC)
3. Singapore Economic Development Board. (2015, September 16). Energy. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from Singapore Economic Development Board website: https://www.edb.gov.sg/content/edb/en/industries/industries/energy.html
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5. World Shipping Council. (2016). Top 50 world container ports. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from World Shipping Council website: http://www.worldshipping.org/about-the-industry/global-trade/top-50-world-container-ports; Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (2016). MPA annual report 2015, Singapore: Author, pp. 3, 20. Retrieved 2016, June 21 from Maritime Port Authority of Singapore website: http://www.mpa.gov.sg/web/wcm/connect/www/27bba404-11a8-4a89-aec6-6aa4a86c7256/combinepdf.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=27bba404-11a8-4a89-aec6-6aa4a86c7256; Singapore Economic Development Board. (2015, September 16). Energy. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from Singapore Economic Development Board website: https://www.edb.gov.sg/content/edb/en/industries/industries/energy.html.
6. EcoSave Technologies. (2007). Positive projections – business development. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from EcoSave Technologies website: http://www.ecosavetech.com/market%20study3.pdf
7. Heah, M. E. S. (2000, September). Singapore – pollution risk management. Paper presented at Mare Forum 2000, Athens, Greece. Retrieved 2016, September 2 from Mare Forum website: http://old.mareforum.com/HEAH%20Mark,%20MPA.htm
8. Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. (2016, January 26). Navigation in the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). Retrieved 2016, May 17 from Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore website: http://www.mpa.gov.sg/web/portal/home/port-of-singapore/circulars-and-notices/port-marine-circulars/detail/pc99-13
9. Ng, V. (1995, September 13). Frequency of oil spills causes grave concernThe Business Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Singapore. The statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (1999 Rev. ed.). Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea Act (Cap. 243). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 1–30. (Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SIN -[HWE])
11. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1998, August 28). The Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability and Compensation for Oil Pollution) Act 1998 (Act 33 of 1998). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 409–443. (Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGAS)
12. Heah, M. E. S. (2000, September). Singapore – pollution risk management. Paper presented at Mare Forum 2000, Athens, Greece. Retrieved 2016, September 2 from Mare Forum website: http://old.mareforum.com/HEAH%20Mark,%20MPA.htm; Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (2016). MPA annual report 2015. Singapore: Author, pp. 3, 20. Retrieved 2016, June 21 from Maritime Port Authority of Singapore website: http://www.mpa.gov.sg/web/wcm/connect/www/6ddbdf35-93d0-4a1d-9ee4-4a997d8c241c/mpa-intergrated-report-2014.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=6ddbdf35-93d0-4a1d-9ee4-4a997d8c241c
13. Heah, M. E. S. (2000, September). Singapore – pollution risk management. Paper presented at Mare Forum 2000, Athens, Greece. Retrieved 2016, September 2 from Mare Forum website: http://old.mareforum.com/HEAH%20Mark,%20MPA.htm; Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (2016). MPA annual report 2015. Singapore: Author, pp. 3, 20. Retrieved 2016, June 21 from Maritime Port Authority of Singapore website: http://www.mpa.gov.sg/web/wcm/connect/www/6ddbdf35-93d0-4a1d-9ee4-4a997d8c241c/mpa-intergrated-report-2014.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=6ddbdf35-93d0-4a1d-9ee4-4a997d8c241c
14. The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited. (2016, January 8). Downward trend in tanker spills continues. Retrieved 2016, May 17 from The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited website: http://www.itopf.com/news-events/news/article/downward-trend-in-tanker-spills-continues/  
15. Chandran, R., & Kutty, N. G. (1972, June 27). Under control! The Straits Times, p. 1; Chandran, R. (1972, June 30). Oil toil crews winning battle of the beaches. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Daniel, J. (1975, January 7). Tugs battle oil slick. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Daniel, J. (1975, January 10). Slicks are kept off beaches. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Teo, G. (1997, October 17). Big oil spill clean-up after tankers collide. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Help for oil-hit fish farms to lodge claims. (1987, July 16). The Straits Times, p. 15; Fish farmers claiming $1m for damage caused by oil spill. (1987, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Nair, S., & Siow, D. (1987, July 25). Quick action saves east and west coasts from worse pollution. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Prema, L. E., & Chua, M. (1987, October 9). Oil spills pose a big challenge. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Teo, G. (1997, October 17). Big oil spill clean-up after tankers collide. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Nathan, D. (1996, August 23). Sentosa activities hit badly by oil spill. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Japan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (1997, October 17). Dispatch of Japan disaster relief team for oil spill incident in the Singapore Straits [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, June 22 from http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/archive_1/oil.html.
25. Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. (1998, September 16). Speech by Mr Chua Lian Ho, Director (Training), at the Asia-Pacific Maritime Safety Agencies Forum: 16–18 September 1998, p. 2. Retrieved 2016, June 22 from Australian Maritime Safety Authority website: http://www.amsa.gov.au/aphomsa/archives/Meeting%203/Agenda%20Item%202%20Oil%20Pollution%20Response/Evoikos%20Oil%20Spill%20(Singapore).pdf
26. Japan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (1997, October 17). Dispatch of Japan disaster relief team for oil spill incident in the Singapore Straits [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, June 22 from http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/archive_1/oil.html.
27. Yeo, G., & Teo, G. (1997, October 18). The big spillThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Singh, J., Big clean-up at Pulau Sudong to clear beach. (1997, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Kaur, K. (2000, October 4). Oil spills after tanker runs aground. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Kaur, K., & Goh, D. (2000, October 7). Clean-up as oil hits Sentosa’s three beaches. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Thomas, S., & Gunasingham, A. (2010, May 26). Oil spill off Changi coastThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Ng, W. H. (2012). Singapore, the energy economy: From the first refinery to the end of cheap oil, 1960–2010. New York: Routledge. (Call no.: RSING 338.27282095957 NG); Liew, H., & Chua, G. (2010, May 28). Rain could hamper oil spill clean-upThe Straits Times, p. 1; Chua, G. (2010, May 29). Oil spill hits Chek Jawa, Changi BeachThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Chow, J. (2014, March 2). Kusu and St John’s beaches cleaned up. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG..



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Orapin Global Oil Spill, Singapore, 1997
Accidents
Oil pollution of the sea--Singapore
Law and government>>Environmental protection>>Pollution
Oil spills--Singapore
Events>>Disasters