Reacting fast: The inside story on the PAP Govt’s fight against the Pasir Panjang oil spill 


ELEVEN MINUTES. That was all it took for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to respond when the dredger Vox Maxima crashed into the Marine Honour, a stationary bunker vessel, on June 14. A speedy response. 

In the aftermath of the accident, PAP MPs have spoken up. Demonstrating their responsibility to their constituents, our MPs have raised plenty of questions in Parliament, holding ministers to account over how the oil spill would impact the environment and public health.  

Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat answered these questions and gave a blow-by-blow account of the steps taken since the incident occurred in a ministerial statement in Parliament on Tuesday (July 2). 

Reaching the accident site, the MPA officers surveyed the damage. There was good news. There had been no causalities due to the accident. The bad news? The impact had torn a hole in the vessel, spilling 400 tonnes of oil into the sea. With the oil spill threatening to spread, time was of the essence. 

The next 24 hours were a flurry of activity as government agencies sprang into action to prevent an ecological disaster. Dispersants were sprayed immediately in the surrounding areas to break down the oil. Thousands of meters of booms were laid out to contain the spread. Drones and satellite imagery were also used to direct the current buster, a specialised oil-containment system that swept and collected the oil on the water surface. Most heartwarming of all, a army of volunteers answered Minister Desmond Lee’s call to action. Nearly 3,5000 people have registered their interest in the clean-up efforts. A sign, that Singaporeans are not the apathetic bunch many online naysayers have made us out to be. 

“The quick response demonstrated the close coordination and collaboration among our agencies, industry partners and volunteers. They worked well together and responded effectively to mitigate the impact of the oil spill,” said Mr Chee. 

Indeed, in the days following the incident, we witnessed Singapore’s public service efficiency at its best. Multiple agencies worked tirelessly, in tandem, to minimise the damage to our coastal environment. Added to that were regular updates, keeping the public informed of the work being done to save their environment. 

A little more than a week after the oil spill, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu shared at a press conference (June 24) that the first phase of the clean-up to remove oil slicks and contaminated sand from the beaches has been completed. “We are moving into the next phase of the clean-up to focus on harder-to-clean areas like rock bunds, breakwaters, and oil trapped deeper in the sand,” said Ms Fu. “We expect to take around three months to complete this next phase of cleaning.” 

Rising to the challenge

It is said that the test of any government often lies in how well it handles a crisis. And in the aftermath of the oil spill, we saw a PAP government that actively sought feedback from affected people, and was transparent, open and clear with information, to reassure the public.  

To allay fears, and make sure that our air, seafood and water supply remains safe, a raft of precautionary measures have since been taken. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has conducted daily air quality tests to ensure chemicals from the oil fumes were within safe levels. In addition, samples from coastal fish farms and water from desalination plants have also been checked for safety. 

The plight of businesses affected by the oil spill has not gone unnoticed. “Agencies are developing measures to promote a return of footfall as well as rental deferral to help affected businesses with their cash flow,” said Ms Fu in parliament. This is a government that listens. 

There was speed, efficiency and clarity in the action plans of the various ministries coordinating the clean-up effort. In all, their response to the oil spill is a testament to a government that plans for contingencies.  

“We have a well-established SOP and conduct regular oil spill response exercises every two years, involving the government agencies and our industry partners,” said Mr Chee.  

To date, good progress has been made in removing all traces of the oil spill. However, the potential for long-term impacts on our marine biodiversity lingers. But as expected, the government is one step (or two) ahead on this. We will continue to undertake impact assessments with our partners and keep a close watch, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee in a third ministerial statement of the day. 

Being one of the busiest ports in the world, oil spills are practically an occupational hazard for Singapore. Yet as the PAP handling of the crisis has shown, a competent government at the helm makes a great deal of difference. At the very least, it is our best bet to ensure that our fragile ecosystems will remain resilient for the next generation. 

When news of the oil spill broke, there was no shortage of online commentators who seized the moment to turn an environmental emergency to point fingers. And yet, the threat of oil destroying our beautiful island became a rallying point.  

Concerned with the environment, Singaporeans from all walks of life volunteered to help and support clean-up operations. This solidarity is precious. It is also what a pan-national party like the PAP seeks to encourage.  

Four years ago, COVID-19 upended our lives. We saw then, how the steadfast leadership of the PAP government led Singapore out of the global pandemic. Now, as the oil spill incident shows, we are seeing these traits once again. A dedicated government determined to take Singapore forward and overcome any crisis along the way. 

Photo Source: Grace Fu via Facebook