Tourists warned to stay out of water as luxury island faces industrial disaster

Signs warned swimmers to stay out of the water after tonnes of oil were spilled across beaches.

Background - an oiled beach in Singapore. Inset - a sign saying the beach is closed.
Several of Singapore's beaches have been closed following an oil spill. Source: Reuters

Popular beaches have been closed across one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations after the water turned black due to an industrial spill.

Nearly all of Singapore’s natural beaches had already been destroyed during the nation’s rapid urbanisation. But they were rebuilt on reclaimed land using millions of dollars worth of sand from Australia and other neighbouring countries.

Now the leaking of an estimated 400 tonnes of oil threatens to undo decades of hard work. The incident occurred after a moored Singaporean fuel ship was struck by a Netherlands-flagged dredging boat on Friday at the southern port of Pasir Panjang.

On Monday, despite the reopening of some beaches, visitors were warned to stay out of the water. A day earlier, those walking along East Coast Park on the southeast coast reported a strong smell, according to Reuters.

The leak occurred before the long weekend when thousands of locals were expected to flock to the luxury resort island of Sentosa, CNN reported. The popular destination is also home to several golf courses, water parks and even Universal Studios.

Workers clean up the sand at Tanjong Beach on the island of Sentosa. Source: Reuters
Workers clean up the sand at Tanjong Beach on the island of Sentosa. Source: Reuters

While some land snails have been affected, local authorities have reported most wildlife is so far unaffected. “No significant impact to marine biodiversity had been observed, though oil was observed on the roots of some mangrove plants in the area,” Dr Karenne Tun, director of NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre told Singapore newspaper The Straits Times.

Sentosa Island, a popular tourist destination, is among the southern Singapore beaches that have been affected. Authorities erected over 1.5km of booms at Labrador Nature Reserve, East Coast Park, West Coast Park to try and stop the flow of oil, and hundreds of volunteers have helped in the cleanup.

Because of the large amounts of oil shipped around the world, oil slicks are a relatively common occurrence, with several major spills reported every year. Last year, a small slick was investigated in Western Australia after over 14 pelicans were found coated in oil.

In 2020, a large slick off Mauritius killed seabirds and fish, and locals resorted to cleaning up the oil with their hands to try and protect their beaches. A year later, a 570,000 litre oil leak off the Californian coast killed and maimed endangered birds.

With agencies

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