Singapore troops return home after fighting haze-causing fires in Indonesia

Singapore troops return home after fighting haze-causing fires in Indonesia

The Singapore team had been fighting forest fires, causing transboundary haze, in Indonesia’s Palembang for more than 10 days.

c130 return to singapore

SINGAPORE: The Singapore team helping to fight haze-causing fires in Indonesia returned Saturday afternoon (Oct 24) after more than 10 days in Palembang.

The return marks the completion of the Singapore Armed Forces' two-week deployment, as requested by Indonesian authorities.

A total of 40 SAF and Singapore Civil Defence Force troops were deployed on Oct 10. A Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket was also deployed. Over the two weeks, it had discharged more than 400,000 litres of water and extinguished more than 50 hotspots in Sumatra.

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Chief of Defence Force Major-General (MG) Perry Lim, with Chief of Air Force MG Hoo Cher Mou and SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap, welcoming personnel from the SAF and SCDF at Paya Lebar Air Base. (Photo: MINDEF)

Said Deputy Head of the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) Mr Harmensyah at a farewell event in Palembang on Friday: “On behalf of the Government of Indonesia, and representing the Head of BNPB, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and deep appreciation for the contribution and hard work of the team and crew from Singapore who have worked hard for these last two weeks of the fire-fighting.”

Officers who spoke of the challenges faced in their mission said the situation in Palembang was quite bad.

"Upon landing, we could already feel the whole Palembang Airbase was already quite hazy," said Lt-Col Vincent Tan, the mission commander. "Understood that earlier that day then, it was above 1,000 the air quality index, AQI."

Added 2WO Vijaikumar, one of the aircrew specialists: "The underground heat was quite intense at times. We could actually feel the heat while we were setting up the bucket together with the SCDF and the rigging team."

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ME3 Brandon Joseph being welcomed home by his daughter and wife. (Photo: MINDEF)

In a Facebook post, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen thanked “our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hotspots and help the surrounding villages”.

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The Singapore deployment and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a heli-bucket sent to Palembang to fight forest fires. (Photo: Ng Eng Hen's Facebook page)

“The industrial scale of this disaster – millions of hectares burning – requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective. There is no shortage of expertise, both regional and international – that can be brought to bear on how to prevent or put out such fires, if requested,” said Dr Ng. “Indonesian leaders have realised that what is key in preventing this environmental disaster from recurring is prevention and enforcement.

“Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs General (GEN) (Rtd) Luhut Pandjaitan had related to me how Indonesian President Joko Widodo stood at ground zero and saw for himself the flames bursting from the peatlands below. Once it started, the burning rapidly spread, fuelled by the highly combustible peat below.

“Defence Minister GEN Ryamizard Ryacudu shared how, many years ago as a ground commander in TNI, he had asked for high pressure water jets to soak the peatlands when his unit was tasked to help put out fires. President Jokowi has suggested pre-constructed irrigation tunnels that can flood the peatlands when needed. I applaud the President’s ideas and initiatives.”

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The heli-bucket used by Singapore troops, which can discharge 5,000 litres of water at a time. (Photo: Ng Eng Hen's Facebook page)

Dr Ng added that the “commercial entities that own or use the land” must take responsibility.

“The commercial entities that benefit from the burning must be pressured to change, by law and penalties. These companies must put in place measures to prevent fires from starting, and if that fails, infrastructure to limit the burning,” said Dr Ng.

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Low visibility conditions in Palembang. (Photo: Ng Eng Hen's Facebook page)

“The strongest motivation to deal with the haze for Indonesia must be a moral one – the health of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens are affected by this man-made disaster as they breathe in high levels of pollutants. These are strong reasons to act decisively.”

Australian and Malaysian troops had left Palembang on Oct 19 and 20 respectively.

Source: CNA/ek