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The Malaysia Oil Spill Response System

Malaysia is a maritime country, which adopted its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) in early 1970. In line with established international practice, Malaysia has enacted a three-tier approach to all aspects of oil spill preparation and response, which defines the party responsible for oil spill cleanup according to different degrees of oil spill.

The Straits of Malacca which stretches for 500 nautical miles is situated between Peninsular Malaysia and the Island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The Straits is at its widest in the northern entrance which is almost 220 nautical miles and at its narrowest point of barely 8 nautical miles at the southern end. The Straits of Malacca is recognized world-wide as one of the busiest waterway in the world. It is strategically located for movements of vessels to the east and west of the globe. On average about 200 vessels of various types ply the route daily. These include the very large crude containers of VLCCs, other merchant ships, warships and fishing vessels. With such number of vessels going up and down the straits, it has been very fortunate that the number of accidents is not high. Since 1977 only about 70 marine accidents were reported in the Malacca Straits.

Tier 1
Tier 1 is site-specific. It includes most shore-side industries with oil transfer sites, offshore installations, and vessels that are required to have a shipboard oil pollution emergency plan. It covers small oil spills and oil spillage occurring within specific facilities. Cleanup responsibility is taken by local authorities or local oil companies.

Tier 2
Tier 2 is provided by Regional Councils and unitary authorities acting as Regional Councils. These agencies are responsible for providing an operational response to oil spill incidents within their regions out to a 12-nautical mile limit of Territorial Sea. Under such conditions, this type of oil spill exceeds the capability of Tier 1 and no responsible party can be identified. The Department of Environment will offer adequate resources to Regional Councils to ensure sufficient equipment and personnel available for them to undertake this role. Regional Councils also have responsibility for ensuring that industries with oil transfer sites within their region produce appropriate oil spill contingency plans. An Area Operation Committee (AOC) will be formed to coordinate this Regional Oil Spill Combat Operation, and it is chaired by an officer appointed by the Director General of Environment.

Tier 3
Tier 3 is the responsibility of the Malaysia Department of Environment (DOE). The Malaysia DOE manages the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. When a spill occurs within a region that is beyond the resources of the region, the DOE will assume responsibility for managing the spill response. Malaysia purchases and maintains oil spill response equipment, which will allows it to contain and clean up a spill up to 25,000 tons of persistent oil. If a large oil spill is beyond Malaysia’s own resources, the DOE will seek and coordinate an international response2. Figure 1 shows the three-tiered approach to Malaysia’s national oil spill contingency plan. Spill Notification and Reporting.

When a spill occurs, it must be reported to local DOE officers or the Marine Department office nearest to the incident site. The report should have the following information:

  • location of incident;
  • type and size of spill(s);
  • date and time of incident; and
  • Other relevant information.

Cleanup Responsibility
Industries that are responsible for oil spills must take immediate action to contain the spill and quickly start the cleanup operations. When a spill occurs, an area co-coordinator (AC) is appointed by Malaysia’s Harbor Master of the Assistant Port Officer who carries out a prompt investigation of the oil spill incident and forwards the investigation report to the Director of Environment. After notifying the Regional Council or the Department of Environment, the company actuates the local/industry Tier 1 contingency plan. If the person in charge assesses the scope as beyond their capability and seeks support, the regional on-scene commander (ROSC) appointed by DOE or the Regional Council will take over the cleanup responsibility from the industry on-scene commander (OSC).

The response then progresses to Tier 2. If a spill response within a region is beyond the capability or resources at the disposal of ROSC, the DOE is to be notified, and the responsibility for response is escalated to Tier 3. At this stage, the Director General of Environment appoints a national on-scene commander (NOSC), and the NOSC will assume control of the response. For a large spill, if the spill has the potential of reaching shoreline, a shore cleanup coordinator (SCC) will be appointed.

Cleanup Strategies
All OSCs are allowed to take whatever actions are appropriate to clean up and/or mitigate the effects of an oil spill. In general, these actions fall into three main areas.

Monitor the Pollution
Under certain circumstances, it may be inappropriate to contain or clean up a spill. The best and most cost-effective response may be to monitor its progress and leave the oil spill for the weather to disperse naturally.

Response at Sea
Dealing with oil while it is still afloat in the sea is always preferable to allowing the oil to float or wash ashore. The OSC’s first priority is to protect the sensitive coastal environment from spilled oil by containing and cleaning the spill while it is in the sea before it reaches coasts and shorelines. The major cleanup options at sea are:

  • containment and recovery using booms and skimmers;
  • solidification by Biodegradable Oil Interceptor (BOI) treatment;
  • use of chemical dispersant;
  • use of absorbent (only those approved by DOE); and
  • In-situ burning.

Shoreline Response
When oil has stranded on the shore, the environmental impact and cost of cleaning is often much greater than if the oil were dealt with at sea. The most used methods are:

  • pre-cleaning – areas are cleaned of debris in advance to make for easier access and to lessen the quantities of oily waste;
  • mechanical and labor – machines and personnel are utilized for intensive shoreline cleanup;
  • leaving the cleanup to natural processes; and
  • Bioremediation – living organisms are used to break down the oily waste. The SCC will decide which method of cleanup to follow based on the specific circumstances. The SCC must also decide cleanup priorities of different locations on the shoreline2.

Waste Disposal
All waste should be disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner. Rules and regulations under the Environmental Quality Act of 1974 (Amendment 1996), governing waste should be followed. It is the responsibility of the OSC to determine and carry out the disposal recovery of all oil waste.

Malaysia Information Management System for Oil Spills
The Department of Environment establishes and maintains a national oil spill database. All oil spill incidents are recorded on this database using information provided by the Regional Council and other reporting agencies. At the conclusion of clean-up operations for minor spills and responses, and as soon as possible during a major spill, the regional or national OSC must send the DOE a full report of the spill and response. The DOE will provide Regional Councils with appropriate oil spill reporting forms for recording. The DOE also maintains and updates a resource database as part of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan.

Malaysia Oil Spill Response Tiers
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