The Mayor of Balikpapan has sued Pertamina et al to the court for polluting the city beaches.
MAYOR Imdaad Hamid was incensed at the sight of sludge oil polluting the waters of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. The oil slicks, 3 meters wide, are spread over a 3-kilometer area, blighting the beaches. "I don't want to see the waters dirtied by the oil spills," Hamid says with anger.
Lantung, that's what the locals call the sludge oils. On June 26 last year Hamid led a month-long clean-up operation and ordered oil companies operating in the area, including Pertamina, Total Indonesie, Unocal and Expan, to take part. Earlier Hamid set up a team to assess the damage and bring the polluters to court. "The mayor is determined to teach a lesson to those who have polluted the waters," says Neil Makinudin, an environmental activist of the Friends of the Beach.
Officials charge the sludge oils were spilled by MT Panos G, a Cyprus-flagged tanker chartered by Pertamina from Soumelia Marine Company in Greece via its agent PT Bandar Harapan Prima in Jakarta. The local government sued all the parties involved in the oil spillage to the court, demanding they pay Rp14 billion in compensation for the damage done to the environment.
The trial which began on March 16 drew wide public attention, especially from environmental groups. An attempt by the court to persuade the parties in dispute to let the case be settled by mediation, failed. Fadjry Zamzam, attorney for the city mayor, says mediation is out of the question as it does not address the matter of compensation. "Also, the criminal process itself is yet to begin," he adds.
The court, in session on June 9, declared it had no authority to judge the case as the defendants were not domiciled in Balikpapan. "We will renew the suit to include owners of the barge involved in the oil spillage as co-defendants," says Zamzam.
Pertamina dismissed the suit against it as "mis-addressed." Mohammad Harun, spokesman for the state oil company, says the tanker hired by Pertamina was not responsible. "The crude oil carried by the tanker had been transferred to the barge when the spillage occurred," says Harun. "And it (the spillage) occurred outside our area of operation."
Police in Balikpapan have declared Michail Kavurgias, captain of the tanker, and Suhartono, Bakri, and Ismail, crewmembers of the barge MT Banda as suspects. Sr. Com. I Wayan Tjatra, spokesman for the East Kalimantan Police, denied charges the police were slow in processing the case. "Three times the dossiers of the case we submitted to the prosecutor's office were returned to us as incomplete," he says. "We are continuing with our investigation."
Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo, chief of the East Kalimantan Police, says the tanker was detained for 10 days before the police let it go. Under the 1982 International Law of the Sea ratified by the Indonesian government in 1985, the police may detain a vessel for no more than 10 days.
"Under the law we could detain a foreign vessel or its skipper for only 10 days," says Utomo. Kavaurgias' lawyer Benny Sudibyo Ponco Soegito, says his client paid Rp4 billion in bail for his release along with the tanker. "Kavaurgias is now in Mexico and the tanker in China," he says.
According to Makinudin, similar cases of pollution by oil spills occurred in previous years in the Kalimantan waters from 2000 to 2003. "But the latest incident in Balikpapan is the worst," he says. Makinudin praised the city mayor for his determination to bring the polluters to justice.
Abdul Manan, Sakti Gunawan (Balikpapan)
TEMPO, JULY 11, 2005-044/P. 47 Heading Law