Gafar Abdullah, Sumenep, Indonesia – A coal barge that ran aground in the sea off the Indonesian island of Java remains stuck there, having already spilled much of its cargo and disrupting the local fishery, a witness says.
The Woodman 37 was carrying coal from Banjarmasin on the island of Borneo to the island of Lombok, on a shipping route that passes by Sumenep district in East Java. It was off Sumenep where it ran aground during bad weather.
The barge is still visible about 1.5 kilometers, or nearly a mile, offshore, according to Haerul Umam, a resident of Ambulung village in Sumenep. "The boat is still there," Haerul confirmed to Mongabay Indonesia in an April 5 text message.
Reports from the Sumenep port authorities said the barge entered the area on Jan. 28. When the vessel failed to continue its journey, two other boats, the Dolphin and WM Fortune I, arrived to pick up the coal. During the transfer, however, much of the coal spilled into the sea.
"I saw with my own eyes the traces of coal from the boat into the surrounding water," Haerul said, adding that many local fishers have complained of the waters turning dark due to the spill.
Haerul said the local fisheries agency and environment agency had been alerted about the incident. But as of April 5, only the fisheries agency has come to carry out an inspection, he said.
The incident adds to the long list of environmental pollution disasters by the coal industry, said Wahyu Eka Setyawan, director of the East Java chapter of the Indonesian Forum of the Environment (Walhi), the country's biggest green NGO.
"We're going to support the locals and agencies in investigating the owners of the coal and which power plant it was for," Wahyu said.
Under a 2009 law, such accidents constitute a clear violation of environmental management standards, for which the perpetrators can face up to three years in jail and fines of up to 3 billion rupiah ($209,000).
Indonesia is one of the world's biggest producers of coal, but that standing has come at a heavy price, including the massive deforestation wrought to mine the fossil fuel, as well as the numerous environmental and safety incidents associated with transporting and burning it.
[This story was reported by Mongabay's Indonesia team and first published here on our Indonesian site on March 28, 2022.]