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Southeast Asia seems to have a permanent rendezvous with disasters. First it was the haze in Indonesia and now it is the oil spill in Singapore. About 25,000 tonnes of fuel oil spilled into the Singapore Strait on October 15 when the Cyprus-registered tanker Evoikos collided with the Thai-registered Orapin Global ( Down To Earth , Vol 6, No 12). Rescue operations involved nearly 50 boats to clean up Singapore's worst oil spill.
Port authorities in Singapore dispatched a helicopter on October 18, to which a spraying machine was attached, to spread chemicals designed to break up oil slicks floating in the waters of southwest Singapore. Helicopters could not be used earlier because of the thick haze from the forest fires burning in neighbouring Indonesia which blanketed Singapore. Japan had flown in skimmers -- boats which use booms to collect the oil and then pump it into a tank -- to help in the clean-up operations.
Meanwhile, the owners of the tanks involved in the collision blamed each other for the accident. The managers of the Thai supertanker issued a statement saying that the Evoikos should have given way as it cut across the strait, one of the world's busiest shipping routes. Evoikos owners, on the other hand, said that the apportionment of blame was not their immediate priority.
Environmentalists fear that the oil spill may threaten marine life and spoil Singapore's beaches. They say that some of the oil spilled after the collision hit beaches on Singapore's small southern island, which are rich in coral. A coating of oil would kill the coral but there had been no definitive indication on whether that had happened, they said. The environment ministry in Singapore is planning to clean the affected beaches by using mini-tractors to collect the sludge.