Tue, 08 Aug 2000

Sabotage suspected in Pertamina refinery blast

JAKARTA (JP): The Pertamina refinery in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan was damaged by an explosion on Monday morning, raising suspicions of a plot to disrupt the country's fuel supply system during the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), state oil company Pertamina confirmed.

Pertamina's president Baihaki Hakim told reporters on Monday that the second unit of the Balikpapan refinery (Balikpapan II), which has the processing capacity of 220,000 barrels of crude oil per day, had to be shut down temporarily after the explosion on Monday morning.

The other production facility, Balikpapan I, was not affected by the explosion and continues to operate normally, he added.

He said the explosion occurred at 6:50 a.m. (local time), causing a fire at the Platformer Plant 5 unit. Refinery workers managed to extinguish the fire by 8:05 a.m. and thoroughly secure the location by 8:30.

The damaged unit produced high octane mogas component (HOMC) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

"No fatalities were reported but two workers were slightly injured," Baihaki said.

Witnesses said the explosion was so loud they thought it was a bomb blast.

Baihaki did not rule out the possibility of sabotage, pointing out that the explosion occurred less than 24 hours after Pertamina's fuel storage facility at the Belawan port in North Sumatra was damaged by a cargo ship.

The Selat Emas cargo ship collided with the Citra Jetty fuel storage at 1:35 p.m., damaging the fuel pipeline.

Speaking on the sidelines of the MPR Annual Session, Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there were indications the explosion was a result of sabotage.

He said he had asked the Military and the police to increase security at Pertamina's refineries and fuel storage facilities across the country.

But, Balikpapan Police chief Supt. Abdul Madjid said the police had thus far found no indications of sabotage and concluded it was an accident.

"Nevertheless, we have questioned several workers and security guards at work during the accident," Abdul was quoted by Antara as saying in Balikpapan.

In addition, the National Police headquarters on Monday noon sent a team of officers from the Gegana anti-bomb squad to Balikpapan, a spokesman for the National Police in Jakarta said.

Baihaki said the shutdown of the Balikpapan II facility would affect fuel supplies to the eastern part of Indonesia for several days, while the damage at the Citra Jetty fuel storage in Belawan would hamper fuel distribution to Aceh.

He said Pertamina would increase fuel imports to cover any fuel shortages in eastern Indonesia.

"We hope processing units at the Balikpapan II facility, including the hydroskimming unit and crude distillation unit can resume operation in two or three days," Baihaki said.

He also said that following the damage to the fuel pipeline in Belawan, Pertamina would send fuel from Belawan to Aceh by truck.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, head of Pertamina's local office for fuel marketing and provision, Santoso Djokokoesoemo, warned locals that there would be fuel shortages in the area for about three days.

In Cilacap, Central Java, the local police and military increased security at the country's largest refinery on Monday.

Cilacap's police chief Supt. Bambang Sudarisman said two platoons of military members and police officers were guarding the refinery, which has the processing capacity of 348,000 barrels of oil per day .

It has been less than three weeks since numerous cities across the country, including the capital, were hit by a gasoline shortage, when Pertamina's refinery in Balongan, West Java was shutdown one month for repairs.

Some legislators even believed there was a conspiracy behind the gasoline shortage with the goal of causing social and political turmoil and the collapse of President Abdurrahman Wahid administration. (jsk/bkm/27/byg/asa/45)