An unidentified black viscous substance, believed to be oil, has contaminated a 7-kilometer stretch of seawater near Batakan beach, 1.5 kilometers off the coast of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, since Sunday afternoon.
The slick has since interrupted the work carried out by locals living around the beach.
“The substance is thick and black, and has very strong odor, which makes me suffocate and my nose itchy,” said Nia who works near Batakan Beach, a famous tourist destination in oil-rich East Kalimantan.
A security guard at Kuala Batakan Cottage, Agus S Yusuf, said: “The odor is so strong... Yesterday afternoon, it smelled like something was burning, only stronger.”
Where the slick has washed ashore, the 4- to 5-centimeter-thick sludge has also contaminated the beach flora, like mangroves and other trees around, as well as fish.
Based on The Jakarta Post’s observations, plants covered with the sludge died, while soil turned black.
Balikpapan Environment Agency head Syahrumsah Setia said he believed the substance was a leak from an oil tanker. “But we do not know who should be held responsible for oil tanker leak.
“As of 4 p.m. today [3 p.m. Jakarta time], we still haven’t found the tanker or its owner,” Syahrumsah told the Post.
He said his agency, upstream oil and gas regulator BP Migas, French oil and gas firm Total E&P Indonésie, state oil and gas firm Pertamina, the port administrator and other related institutions had cooperated to mitigate the damaged caused by the slick.
“We have also told people to avoid the contaminated beach areas and stop any activities they normally carry out around there for the time being,” said Syahrumsah.
He said he had not calculated the losses incurred due to the substance spill, which was less devastating than the 2004 one.
The affected area is in the East Kalimantan waters, the commercial passage way adjoining the Sulawesi sea and the Makassar strait.
If the sludge spill is not dealt with immediately, strong winds and tides of more than one meter may spread the spill to other areas.