SINGAPORE: In the wake of the oil spill that occurred on June 14 at Pasir Panjang Terminal, Members of Parliament (MP) from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) are set to seek updates on the comprehensive cleanup efforts and possible proactive strategies to prevent similar environmental disasters in the future, at the next Parliamentary session on July 2.

The unfortunate incident resulted from the collision of a Netherlands-flagged dredging boat, Vox Maxima, with a stationary Singapore-flagged bunker vessel, Marine Honour.

The incident ruptured one of Marine Honour’s oil tanks, releasing about 400 tonnes of low-sulphur fuel into the sea, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

In an interview with Petir, Poh Li San, Deputy Chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and Environment, mentioned that she would query the relevant ministry for assurances on comprehensive cleanup efforts to mitigate the harm on the affected beaches and marine life.

The Sembawang GRC MP is also seeking clarity on the government’s preventive measures to avert similar environmental tragedies in the future, ensuring that lessons are learned from this incident and that robust safeguards are put in place to protect Singapore’s delicate ecosystem.

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According to Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat, the MPA responded within 11 minutes of being notified of the accident and clean-up efforts have been underway since the oil spill.

The oil spill from the bunker vessel Marine Honour spread to various parts of Singapore’s waters, including Sentosa beaches, Labrador Nature Reserve and Cooper Channel, St John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu Islands, East Coast Park, Tanah Merah.

The oil slicks were also spotted in the waters of Johor, nearby Sungai Rengit beaches, and the area around Cik Kamat Island.

Workers cleaning up the oil spill at the beaches. (Photo: Facebook screengrab)

West Coast GRC MP Rachel Ong mentioned on Facebook that she would be filing six parliamentary questions to reflect the ‘deep concerns’ of members of Pulai Eco Club and the residents that lived along the coastlines.

“The questions cover topics on its impact on our marine-protected areas, whether measures were taken to protect the health and safety of the workers engaged in the clean-up process, and if the costs of the clean-up will also be borne by the parties involved in the allusion,” posted MP Ong on her social media on Jun 20.

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MP Ong also plans to inquire about public health and safety concerns, noting that there were reports of dizziness among residents who breathed in the oil vapours.

However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) test has indicated safe air quality.

The NEA announced on June 20 that the air quality at East Coast Park, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Sentosa remains within safe parameters, and the agency continues with its daily monitoring to guarantee a safe environment for both the public and cleanup personnel, ensuring the wellbeing of all individuals involved.

Who is liable for the cleanup cost?

As the cleanup efforts intensify, the spotlight is set to shift to the nitty-gritty of the operation and the question on everyone’s lips: who will foot the bill?

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Nadia Samdin, a member of the GPC for Sustainability and Environment, is poised to ask the government about the standard operating procedures to contain spills and coordinate cleanup efforts and the role that citizens can play in the cleanup process. 

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Meanwhile, MP Ong is also set to zero in on the financial implications, seeking answers on the total cost of the cleanup and whether those responsible for the oil spill will be held accountable for the expenses.

In a statement on June 20, the MPA highlights that:

“Under the Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability and Compensation for Oil Pollution) Act 1998, which is Singapore’s enactment of the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (1992 CLC), the owner of the tanker Marine Honour has strict liability for pollution damage caused by oil spill from its tanker in Singapore waters.”

Although Marine Honour was hit by the dredging boat Vox Maxima, the Singapore government seeks compensation for the leaked bunker vessel, invoking the ‘polluter pays’ principle to streamline the claims process and hold the responsible party accountable.

This includes expenses that Singapore government agencies incur, such as sea and shore cleanup costs. However, MPA added that Marine Honour retains the right to take recourse action against third parties for its pollution liability.