Fuel Oil Spill at Penang's Capital
On Sunday, the Malaysian Marine Department reported a spill of 15 tonnes of fuel oil near the Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal near Penang, and said that it may have originated from a tanker berthed at the facility.
The tanker, the Nautica Maharani, remains detained in port while authorities look at all potential sources of the spill, including shoreside fuel transfer infrastructure. It was the only vessel present at the time of the incident, and authorities asked it to stop delivery of fuel when the slick was discovered, said Penang Port COO V. Sasedharan.
Environmental officials took fuel samples from the water and from the tanker for laboratory analysis to see if there is a match. On Tuesday, the Transport Ministry told media that preliminary investigations pointed to an accidental discharge from the tanker, but that "we are investigating whether the leakage was from the vessel or from shoreline piping," said minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
Cleanup efforts have already been completed, including the use of 600 liters of dispersants – but not before the slick covered over 70 square kilometers, reported Free Malaysia Today. The oil was reportedly carried by currents towards shore, creating a two meter wide strip of a thicker layer along five kilometers of coastline at George Town, Penang state's capital.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng described the accident as a disaster. "We are really disappointed that the state government was not informed of the spill until late on Saturday," he said, speaking to local media. He was concerned that it could have long-term effects for fishermen's livelihoods. "The fish farms are safe but we are not sure about the marine life,” he said. He believed the cleanup effort was satisfactory, though: "I am very satisfied with the efforts and swift action of the authorities, which included the Marine Department and Department of Environment," he said.
Fisherman M. Ravi told the Malay Mail Online that the spill was only the latest in a series, and that they were a common occurrence. "It happened two weeks ago and several months ago. We have been severely affected as we cannot catch fish until the oil is no more," he said. "Fish can sense pollution and they swim away if the area is polluted."
Fisherman M. Murugan confirmed that spills were common and had negative effects, including the oiling of nets, requiring the purchase of clean replacements.