Mon, 08 Mar 1999

PLN weighs suing ship owner over cable snafu

By Johannes Simbolon

SURABAYA (JP): State electricity company PT PLN is preparing to sue Pacific International Lines (PIL) for damage allegedly caused by one of its vessels to PLN's underwater power cables connecting Java and the offshore island of Madura.

The damage has cut off power from the Gresik power plant in East Java to Madura's three million population since Feb. 19.

"We have found strong proof to indicate that the damage to the power cables was caused by the anchors of PIL's Kota Indah vessel. Thus, we are now preparing legal procedures to demand compensation for the damage," PLN president Adhi Satrya told The Jakarta Post and Kompas daily here on Saturday.

Adhi said PLN was calculating its compensation demand.

"We shall definitely demand compensation for the damage caused to the cables and we'll also demand the company reimburse us for the expenses we have incurred to provide alternative power to the island amid the power outage."

Adhi said PLN invested Rp 215 billion (about US$25 million at the current rate) to buy and install the cables in the Madura Strait in 1986. The cables were made by British cable producer BICC.

PLN has been forced to lease dozens of diesel powered generators.

According to Adhi, the 164-meter-long vessel is insured by P&I Club Britannia London.

Minister of Mines and Energy Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said he supported PLN's move.

"There is enough proof that the damage to the cables was caused by the vessel's anchors," he said during a visit to the island on Friday.

Madurese were shocked to find themselves without power on Feb. 19.

The island received 70 Megawatts from the Gresik power plant through two four-kilometer underwater cables.

PLN accused Kota Indah of dragging and damaging the cables with its anchors, citing the area's listing on the international shipping map as a no-anchoring zone.

Tanjung Perak and Gresik port administrator RM Buchari said Kota Indah dropped anchor outside the no-anchoring zone, but strong currents and winds caused it to drift.

"The captain had gone on land," Buchari said.

Adhi said the ship's owner was liable for the damage despite the circumstances.

"The captain is responsible for anything that happens to his vessel around the clock."

The vessel's Pakistani captain, Shaukat Ali Akhtar, who is reportedly still in Surabaya police custody, was not available for comment on Saturday.

Adhi said the owner of Kota Indah admitted "there is a strong indication the damage to the cables was caused by the vessel but there is not yet any evidence to prove the indication".


In a related development, Kuntoro told the Madurese that PLN was sending 20 diesel-powered generators and a barge-mounted power plant to the island.

Most of the power generators were leased by PLN but some were donated by concerned multinationals, including Arco Indonesia and Siemens.

Kuntoro said the island would receive 30-Megawatts by the end of the month, still far below the island's normal energy consumption of 70 MW.

"We know that it is not enough. But with the 30 MW power supply, people on the island can have enough supply in daylight, but they will take turns to get power supplies in the evening."

He also relayed President B.J. Habibie's instruction to PLN to reduce by 50 percent power bills for the island this month and free subscribers of one-month charges in April as compensation for losses incurred from the outage.

He said it could take up to six months to repair the cables, which are not available on the spot market,

"PLN has a 170-meter-long cable in stock. If the broken part of the cables are less than 170 meters, we can quickly repair it," he said.

"But if the broken parts of the cable are more than 170 meters, it could take many months to repair because we would first have to order the manufacturer to make the cable."