Singapore slick an inevitable consequence of being Asia’s gas station
When you have 140,000 vessels calling at your port every year, sooner or later some of them will bump into each other.
If your port is at the confluence of the busiest sea lanes in the world, if it is the world’s largest refuelling port and the biggest oil storage centre in Asia, there is a lot of crude and bunker fuel floating around.
So when there is an accident at sea, it is almost inevitable that it will involve a large oil spill.
That’s the position Singapore now finds itself in. Early yesterday morning, the Bunga Kelana 3 oil tanker collided with bulk carrier Waily in the Singapore Strait just seven nautical miles southeast of the city-state.
The tanker spilt 2,000 tonnes of oil into the Strait. Fortunately, both ships are still afloat and sitting at anchor being inspected.
Okay, the spill is nothing compared to the fiasco going on in the Gulf of Mexico, but 14,660 barrels of crude can do a lot of damage in the confined space off Singapore.
What is interesting is that the tanker is a double-hulled vessel, a design intended to prevent spills or flooding beyond the outer wall of the ship in the event of a collision.
The impact tore a 10-metre hole in the Bunga Kelana’s port side and the fact that both hull walls were penetrated is a sobering reminder that a double-hull design is helpful, but is no panacea. Minor scrapes can be safe, but when ships of hundreds of thousands of tonnes bump into each other or into the scenery, the integrity of the hull is almost certain to be compromised. Or, as normal people say, the hull will be torn open.
So double hull or not, the tanker company and the Singapore maritime authorities have a devil of a time ahead trying to clean up the mess.
The good news is that at least the leak has been stopped, unlike in the Gulf where the earth is leaking oil at 5,000 tonnes a day.
But the bad news is that the spill will have to be cleaned up and the green activists are very unhappy. As an energy consultant in Singapore said today: “Two thousand tonnes of oil is not small – most environmental organisations get upset about even smaller slicks.”