SINGAPORE: What if a collision at sea spills 500 tonnes of benzene into the waters off Singapore?

A chemical spill on such a scale in the East Johor Strait is one of the scenarios Singapore and Malaysia authorities were preparing for in a joint exercise conducted on Thursday (Jul 12).

chemical spill exercise

Vapour suppression being carried out by a Marine Department of Malaysia vessel. (Photo: Vanessa Lim)

Seven vessels and 50 officers from Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) were deployed to support the exercise. They were joined by the Marine Department of Malaysia (MDM). 

During the simulation, officers had to react quickly after a chemical tanker and a product tanker collided off Pulau Ubin, spilling about 500 tonnes of benzene, a colourless and highly flammable liquid, into the sea.

The exercise also simulated how authorities would respond if residents and farmers nearby were affected by a gasoline-like odour due to the spill, said authorities in a joint news release on Thursday.

Benzene is carcinogenic and inhaling it in large quantities may cause dizziness, headaches and eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, the release said.

Under the joint emergency response plan, the MPA will work with MDM, their Malaysian counterpart, to monitor and coordinate the clean-up at sea.

joint chemical spill ex

A joint chemical spill exercise was conducted by Singapore and Malaysia authorities to test their joint emergency response plan. (Photo: Vanessa Lim)

NEA is to work with the Johor Department of Environment to monitor the air and water quality and coordinate clean-up efforts at affected shore areas.

During the exercise, the two sides demonstrated clean-up operations, vapour suppression activities as well as environmental monitoring.

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers also evacuated “injured” crew members from the chemical tanker. This was followed by a decontamination procedure on board the SCDF firefighting vessel.

“As chemical or oil spills are transboundary in nature, it is important that we conduct regular bilateral exercises with our immediate neighbours to strengthen regional and multi-agency response capabilities,” said MPA’s chief executive Andrew Tan.

Launched in 2014, the biennial exercise is part of the bilateral cooperation programme under the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment.

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