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Oil Suspected from Pablo Wreck Washes Ashore in Indonesia

Oil pollution from Pablo
Oil has begun to wash up hundreds of miles away in Indonesia that is suspected of coming from the wreck of the Pablo (MMEA photo)

Published May 5, 2023 4:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Days after the fire that heavily damaged the tanker Pablo in the waters near the off Malaysia officials are now reporting widespread pollution which they believe is coming from the hulk. Indonesian officials are reporting that they have begun to investigate the sources while Malaysia said so far it has remained too dangerous to board the burnt-out tanker.

The fire began mid-day on Monday as the Pablo (96,773 dwt) was traveling in ballast reportedly to Singapore from China. Subsequent investigations have uncovered that the vessel was part of the so-called “shadow fleet” working to avoid sanctions primarily on Iranian oil exports. Some reports suggest the Pablo was preparing for a ship-to-ship transfer receiving Iranian oil destined for China when the fire destroyed the tanker.

The Royal Malaysian Navy’s KD Pendekar and the MV Polaris of the Marine Department continue to stand by the wreck. The Marine Department reports their vessel had carried out water-spraying operations on the hull to cool the wreck. Conditions however have prevented the Hazardous Materials Special Team from the Fire and Rescue Department to begin their operations. They were scheduled to inspect the hulk for contamination and search for three crewmembers that continue to be missing.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency reports that it is continuing to search the waters for the missing crew covering an area of 393 square nautical miles. They said modeling showed that the crew could have been carried into Tanjung Pinang waters in Indonesia. They have requested help from Indonesia’s Search and Rescue National Agency (BASARNAS) to search Indonesia waters.

Starting Wednesday morning, May 3, officials in Batam, Indonesia on the south side of the Singapore Strait report that large amounts of oil have begun to wash up on their beaches and foul fishing areas. So far, they are reporting removing four tons of black oil waste from the beaches of Batam. The police said the pollution has centered on three locations in the eastern region with an estimated spill area of over five square miles. 

The head of the special crimes unit in the Riau Islands told reporters that based on satellite data they believe the oil is coming from the wreck of the Pablo. Fishermen complaining about the pollution said that Batam is frequently contaminated with oil from passing vessels.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry reports it is taking samples of the oil to determine where the waste is coming from. At the same time, they are using trucks to remove the oil and store it in drums and sacks for further investigation.

The Pablo’s fuel tanks were ripped open by a series of explosions during the fire. Images show large sections of the deck being blown into the air and hanging over the side of the vessel. In the aftermath, pictures show the tanks are ripped open although there have not been reports of significant breaches to the hull.