KARAWANG, West Java: The high tide was coming but fishermen in the remote village of Sedari, in the northern coast of Indonesia’s West Java province, had no plans of venturing out to sea.
“The fishes are either dead or have fled elsewhere,” Mr Rohadi, who like many Indonesians goes with one name, said while cleaning and fixing his net, smeared by the spill from an oil rig 2km offshore.
Mr Rohadi, who can haul in 1 million rupiah (US$70) worth of catch in a day, said the only fish his three-crew boat managed to catch since the oil spill was a dying snapper covered in thick, black, crude oil which no one would buy.
“My savings are depleting fast. I don’t know how long my family can survive with no income like this,” the father of three told CNA.
Indonesia’s state-owned oil company Pertamina which operates the troubled oil rig YYA-1, said a sudden release of gas on Jul 12 triggered the release of crude oil from its bored well.
Pertamina said it has deployed more than two dozen ships armed with 2km-long oil booms - floating barriers used to contain an oil spill. It has also deployed five giant octopus-like skimmers to suck up the oil.
In the meantime, until the leak is plugged, thousands of fishermen and local businesses are reeling from the environmental and economic impact.
Although no longer as bad as the first week after the spill, crude oil still makes its way to shore, travelling as far away as the Thousand Islands in Jakarta some 60km west of the rig and Cilamaya, 50km east.
The spill has polluted 45 sq km of water according to an assessment by activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, affecting the livelihood of thousands of fishermen.
FOOD STALLS, RESTAURANTS SUFFER
In Sedari village, pollution has also affected food stalls and restaurants along the beach which are popular among local tourists.
“People are afraid to come to the beach because of the oil spill. Before the incident, I usually make 400,000 rupiah on weekdays and 800,000 rupiah on weekends. Now, I’m lucky if I get 50,000 rupiah a day,” Ms Wariyi, a vendor, told CNA.
The situation was worse for seafood restaurants, with some shutting temporarily because customers were worried about consuming tainted produce.
Ms Titi Sumantri said the pollution has also affected consumer confidence towards freshwater fishes, seaweed and salt from farms around the coastal areas of Karawang.
“The oil spill didn’t touch my fish farm. But customers still wouldn’t buy my fish. People are scared. The only way is to sell them really really cheap,” Ms Sumantri said.
The situation is so dire that the only way to make money in Sedari and other worst hit villages like Cemara Jaya and Pasir Jaya was to join the team of workers cleaning the beaches affected by the oil spill.
Armed with shovels and plastic sacks, some 800 locals dressed in white protective clothing and gear have been collecting and transporting tons of polluted sand.
The sand is loaded onto trucks adorned with stickers indicating that they are toxic. The sand will then be safely disposed at waste treatment facilities across West Java.
“Pertamina is paying us 3,000 rupiah per sack,” one local, Wawan Darmawan told CNA as he waited along with at least a hundred others for his turn to load the six sacks of polluted sand he collected from a beach three kilometres away.
“Sedari is pretty much cleaned but the problem is the beaches which are still polluted are inaccessible by car, let alone by truck,” he said.
Mr Darmawan said he has to make three to four 10-minute round trips on his old motorcycle, just to earn 80,000 rupiah, a fraction of the 300,000 rupiah a day he makes as a boat crew.
“It’s better than no money at all,” he reasoned.
PERTAMINA CALLS FOR PATIENCE
How long will this situation last?
Pertamina’s corporate communications vice president Fajriyah Usman said it could take eight weeks before the leak is completely stopped.
“We are working to address the issue with our drilling platform. Until we fix the problem we will continue to keep the spill at bay with oil booms and skimmers to minimise the oil spill reaching the shore,” Ms Usman told CNA.
“We are working with a consultant from America with proven experience in handling oil spills like this. They are analysing ways to stop the source of the leak in a safe way considering that we are dealing with oil spills and gases. This is a high-risk operation.
“Which is why we are taking the time to make sure that we stop the leak in the most effective and safest way possible. It is not like fixing your plumbing work at home.”
The Pertamina executive said the company is preparing a compensation scheme for the affected communities.
“We are working with local people to clean the beaches. We are setting up health centres to check people’s conditions. We are assessing the damage done and will make sure that people are fairly compensated,” she said.
Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan told reporters that the government is making a separate assessment on the damages, to ensure that the compensation takes into account all direct and indirect damages to people’s health, the local economy as well as the environment.